Chicken coop trial: Abusive mother cites jail rules as parenting model

Recognizing signs of physical child abuse

U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) statistics show that more than 700,000 children are referred to child protective agencies as a result of abuse or neglect in the U.S. each year.
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U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) statistics show that more than 700,000 children are referred to child protective agencies as a result of abuse or neglect in the U.S. each year.

BUTLER, Ga. — Before her sentencing Tuesday, the woman convicted of locking her adopted daughter away without food cited Taylor County jail rules as good examples for parents to follow in childrearing.

That earned her no sympathy from Superior Court Judge Bobby Peters, who sentenced Diana Franklin to 190 years in prison on 27 counts of false imprisonment or first-degree child cruelty and one of aggravated assault.

“You’ll actually get better treatment in prison than you gave your own daughter,” Peters told her.

Franklin showed no remorse as she defended her disciplinary methods and compared them to the policies inmates are expected to obey in the county jail, where she has been held since a jury convicted her Nov. 23 on 19 counts of child cruelty and eight of false imprisonment, plus the assault charge.

She said she was given a handbook on jail policies when she was confined to the facility, and she cited excerpts as she equated corrections officers to parents:

“Orders or instructions given to you by jail officers — parents — are official orders and must be obeyed promptly,” she said. “If an order seems to be unjust, obey first, then object at a later time. Rules must be obeyed regardless how unjust they are thought to be. You will be expected to obey orders immediately without any insolence or resistance whatsoever.”

Then she said: “This is a prime example of a healthy parent-child relationship.”

Franklin was accused not only of confining her daughter without food — and sometimes without clothing — in various outbuildings that included a chicken coop and an outhouse, but of beating the naked child with a belt buckle, tying her like a dog by the neck to a tree, and shocking her with remote-controlled electronic collars meant for dog training.

Assistant District Attorney Wayne Jernigan was quick to point out that Taylor County Sheriff Jeff Watson would be fired and prosecuted if he similarly abused his jail inmates.

“It’s utterly absurd what she just said to this court,” Jernigan declared after telling Peters, “I’m really taken aback. That was just unbelievable.”

Franklin also talked about serving in the Air Force, of marrying her husband who also was on active duty, and of rearing three sons, two of whom currently are in the armed forces.

“They have watched as their parents chose to share the wisdom, knowledge, resources, and most importantly our love to a child, young adult, who has in turn showed ungratefulness and hatred for the very life they have been given,” she said.

“How can I explain to these fine young men that the very way they were raised and taught is now considered excessively cruel and unjust, when the reason for their success is due directly to their upbringing? … How exactly are we supposed to train our children?”

Then she focused on Sheriff Watson, who she said had been in Bible study with her. He should have visited the family’s 72 acres on Old Wire Road outside Butler to see how she treated her children, rather than calling the Georgia Bureau of Investigation to probe the child-abuse complaint.

“This is a small town. I expected you to be more like Andy Griffith,” she told Watson, later adding, “Out of everything’s that happened, that was the one thing that I have a hard time wrapping my head around, because you called yourself a brother in Christ.”

Watson told the court he thought the legal system had failed to protect the child while she was in Franklin’s custody.

“I feel like we let her down: Nobody called; nobody came. She sat out there night after night, crying for help,” Watson said, referring to the girl’s testimony that she screamed for help when she was locked in the outhouse at night and heard wild animals roaming the woods nearby.

She first was in the Franklins’ custody as a foster child in 2006 before they adopted her in Crawford County in 2007, then moved to Taylor County in 2009. The daughter testified that Franklin tormented her there until social workers investigating an anonymous tip rescued her May 25, 2012, after Franklin had padlocked her in a garage.

Now an 18-year-old high school senior, the victim testified Tuesday that she still has post-traumatic stress disorder that causes nightmares, flashbacks and anxiety attacks. She can still smell and hear the chickens she was confined with, and sense the stench of the outhouse and the odors of dirt, sweat and chemicals that filled the air in the garage Franklin locked her in.

The trial exposed all that she suffered in Franklin’s custody, she said, telling her adoptive mother: “People can read through you now, Diana Franklin.”

She added, “I don’t hate you anymore, and in fact I forgive you for everything you’ve done…. I forgive you and do not hate you, but you have to pay for what you did to me.”

Her testimony was followed by Leigh Brooks, a GBI child-abuse investigator who told Peters, “This was the worst case of abuse that I’ve ever investigated in which the child survived.”

Franklin’s attorney Kevin Bradley countered that worse cases have been reported, including a mother who sold her daughter for sex.

He called five witnesses to praise Franklin: One friend called her “very loving, very helpful.” A neighbor said she’s “the sweetest, sweetest lady that I have every had the joy of being with.” Her father-in-law said she and his son “both have treated the kids with great respect.”

Jernigan gave a less flattering assessment, referring to Franklin’s testimony as he told the judge, “The narcissism of this woman knows no bounds.”

Peters went a step further: “To me, you’re just an evil woman,” he told Franklin.

The judge noted Franklin kept journals in which she detailed the punishments given the girl, who was in Franklin’s custody from age 10 to age 15: “Your own journals laid it all out.”

Pointing out that Franklin, a Civil War re-enactor, at times referred to the girl as her “slave,” Peters said: “Your attitude is mind-boggling.”

Then he delivered the sentence: 190 years in prison, though Franklin had no criminal history.

Her husband Samuel Franklin Jr. also faces charges, but he was indicted separately and is to be tried later.

After Tuesday’s sentencing, Sheriff Watson talked to reporters about Franklin’s calling him out in court.

“You know, I was a little taken aback by it,” he said. “She compared me to Andy Griffith, asked why I didn’t come to her house and sit down and just talk to her about it. I guess she wanted me to sweep it under the rug, so to speak.”

He called in the GBI because it has agents who specialize in child abuse, he said.

“I feel that all in all we in this community sort of let this child down, and this was our way of making it right,” Watson said.

He added, “If I can’t stand up for the kids, I can’t stand up for anybody.”