Union County prosecutors say they anticipate Wanda Sue Larson, a former social services supervisor, will plead guilty Tuesday in a child abuse case in which a boy in her care was found shackled to her porch with a dead chicken tied around his neck.
District Attorney Trey Robison on Monday confirmed he anticipates a plea in the case but declined to discuss specifics.
The November 2013 arrests made international headlines as details of the case quickly emerged.
Larson, 58, was the legal guardian of the boy, then 11. She and her longtime boyfriend, Dorian Harper, were arrested after a Union County sheriff’s deputy came upon the boy by chance while investigating an unrelated call about one of Harper and Larson’s pigs loose in their Monroe-area neighborhood.
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Harper’s trial ended in a surprise guilty plea just before opening arguments were to begin in mid-March.
Harper, 58, was sentenced to a minimum of six years and three months, with a maximum of 10 1/2 years in prison. If he had gone ahead with the trial, Harper could have faced a sentence that was twice as long.
There was also a possibility that Larson could have testified against Harper had the case gone to trial.
Robison said the main reason he is agreeing to a plea deal for Larson, as he did for Harper, is because he does not want to “revictimize” the boy by forcing him to testify.
Larson’s case is expected to be heard by Judge Reuben Young in Union County Superior Court.
Bob Leas, Larson’s attorney, could not be reached for comment.
Larson had been the boy’s guardian since he was about 3. She had adopted four other children who were in the home when the couple was arrested; the children ranged in age from 7 to 14. All five have since been placed into social services custody outside of the county.
Several of the children attended Harper’s sentencing hearing. But the boy who was abused by Harper became so upset at listening to the details that he left the courtroom.
Testimony highlighted abuse that included Harper using pliers to twist the boy’s pinkie finger, burning his face with electrical wire and cutting his face with a knife. The boy was chained to a steel railroad track at night in a locked room where Harper didn’t even want him to have a dirty blanket to sleep on.
The boy remained shackled through the day and often bore the brunt of Harper’s anger for any perceived problems in the house, according to testimony at Harper’s sentencing. Larson failed to get the boy medical attention when he was hurt, according to the indictment in the case.
Larson faces charges that include felony child abuse, false imprisonment and maiming over alleged abuse between August and November 2013. Because of her job in the Department of Social Services, Larson also was accused of willful failure to discharge her duty as a public figure.
After their arrests, Larson was fired from her job as a child protective services supervisor, and Harper lost his job as an emergency room nurse at a Monroe hospital.
Last year, Larson was transferred from Union County Jail to a Raleigh prison for undisclosed medical reasons but was sent back to the Monroe jail in mid-January. Her appearance has markedly changed since she entered jail, mug shots show; for instance, her hair is noticeably grayer.
Larson’s arrest led to a review of Union County’s foster care, adoption and child-protection programs.
The couple had provided foster care for 36 children over a 12-year period, and authorities worked to determine whether the other children were abused or witnessed abuse. No other child abuse charges were filed, however.