News » Family

CA Lesbian Couple Charged with Starving Kids

by Seth Hemmelgarn
Friday Apr 4, 2014

A female Salinas couple is facing charges that they starved and neglected their three children, including allegedly chaining one to a wall.

Eraca Dawn Craig, 31, and Christian Jessica Deanda, 44, are each in Monterey County jail on $500,000 bail.

Monterey County Sheriff's deputies responded to the couple's home in the first block of Russell Road March 14 for a welfare check after the children - an 8-year-old girl, and two boys, ages 5 and 3 - didn't arrive at an appointment, according to information provided by Sergeant Keith Wingo.

"There was very little food in the house, and the house was cluttered and dirty," a news release from the sheriff's office said. The children were "malnourished," and showed "signs of physical and emotional abuse." The release also said their injuries included "bruises and miscellaneous marks."

"The children were starved and one of them had been chained to the floor to keep her from obtaining food," the sheriff's office reported. Wingo said he'd received information that indicated the oldest child had been "especially" malnourished.

According to details attached to a search warrant and posted on KSBW Channel 8's website, the girl, whose name hasn't been disclosed, said she'd been "chained to a wall with a collar around her neck." She weighed 40 pounds, her hair had been "shaved off" and she hadn't been allowed to eat except for oatmeal, the records say.

"Jane Doe stated that she was hit with a black belt and was forced to be chained up all day, every day," according to the documents. The girl "admitted she had bit herself because she was so hungry she thought it might make her feel better ... . [She] stated that she was forced to lay on the floor while her brothers urinated on her because she had an accident."

One child was hospitalized and the state Child Protective Services department took the other two into protective custody. They're now in foster care, according to an attorney in the case.

The Monterey County district attorney has charged Craig and Deanda with felony child abuse and false imprisonment by violence against the girl, according to the amended criminal complaint. The women also face a misdemeanor count for each boy of cruelty to a child by inflicting injury.

Salinas is about two hours south of San Francisco.

'A Very Nice, Quiet Young Lady'

Attorney Susan Chapman, who's representing Craig, said in an interview last week that her client is "a very nice, quiet young lady who is distraught and concerned for the welfare of the children."

Craig is "grateful" the children are getting "medical and psychological treatment for any problems they have," said Chapman.

She said that her client is "not self-absorbed."

Chapman, who had just been appointed to the case, indicated much of what she knows comes from media reports, and said, "so I have very little information in regards to the facts," and she had "no way of knowing if one person" was "more responsible than the other" for the alleged crimes.

However, she said, "We are standing by" Craig's not guilty pleas. Deanda has also pleaded not guilty.

"She's not guilty of all charges, and we're going to look at all the facts of the case and determine what, if any responsibility, she may have had," said Chapman of her client. Chapman did say, though, "Clearly," the daughter "is very thin, and that is very concerning."

Craig and Deanda have been in a relationship for more than 10 years, but Chapman said she doesn't believe they're married.

One of the children is Craig's biological son, said Chapman. The couple had legal guardianship of the other two, she said. Those children came from a young, unmarried woman who the couple had befriended. They got those children "when the mother had some difficulties," said Chapman. She wasn't sure what the mother's problems had been.

She said Craig doesn't have a criminal history.

It's "possible" the case will be resolved before it reaches the preliminary hearing, when a judge would determine whether there's enough evidence to proceed to trial, but it "may take more time" to obtain all the documentation involved and determine "who or if anyone is at fault, or just exactly what's going on, and how it happened," said Chapman.

"There's always more to the story than the initial report," she said, adding, "I ask everyone to wait to pass judgment until all the facts are brought forth."

Wingo, of the sheriff's office, said "to my knowledge," his agency hadn't previously known of trouble involving the family.

Deputy Public Defender Jeremy Dzubay, who's representing Deanda, didn't respond to interview requests.

The next court date is April 23. Deputy District Attorney Sarah Ma has been assigned as the prosecutor.

Anyone with information in the case may contact the sheriff's office at (831) 755-3700. The sheriff's case number is 14-01662.

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