ANCHORAGE — A woman who squirted hot sauce into the mouth of her adopted Russian son for lying about getting in trouble in school was convicted Tuesday of misdemeanor child abuse in what prosecutors said was a ploy to get on the “Dr. Phil” TV show.
Jessica Beagley, 36, made a videotape of how she punished the boy and submitted it to the show. The tape shows Beagley yelling at the crying boy, then tipping his chin up and pouring hot sauce in his mouth.
Beagley then had the screaming boy stand in a cold shower for sword-fighting with pencils in school.
Both actions were recorded on a videotape submitted to the “Dr. Phil” show. Anchorage police got calls from viewers after the show aired last October.
Neither Beagley nor her husband showed any emotion when the six-person jury announced its decision. The couple walked quickly from the courtroom and down a set of stairs without responding to questions from reporters.
Jessica Beagley could face the maximum sentence of one year in jail, a $10,000 fine and up to 10 years of probation when she is sentenced Monday, said District Judge David Wallace. She remains free without bail because the case is a misdemeanor.
Prosecutor Cynthia Franklin also left the courtroom without commenting.
Beagley and her husband, Gary, an Anchorage police officer, adopted the twins in 2008 when they were 5 years old. The boys had already spent three years in an orphanage. When located by Russian authorities, their family was living in a shack and the twins were sleeping on shelves in an armoire.
One of the twins made a fairly easy adjustment to his new home in Alaska, but the other exhibited behavioral problems that included lying and urinating on the floor.
Beagley’s attorney said his client turned to unconventional forms of punishment when spankings, time-outs and restricting television weren’t effective in changing the boy’s behavior.
Defense attorney William Ingaldson said his client was faced with a difficult situation dealing with a child with emotional problems when she reached out to the “Dr. Phil” show for help. If she hadn’t done that, she never would have been charged with child abuse, he said.
“It is our feeling Jessica was doing the best she could. ... This is a very good, loving family,” Ingaldson said.
He believes the city child abuse ordinance fails to spell out what is acceptable in terms of punishment. For example, under the law it would be possible to convict a parent who put a child in a timeout for what a jury might consider too long, he said.
Ingaldson will request that Beagley receive no jail time. Asked if the children could be taken from the family, he said the Office of Children’s Services had already investigated and found no reason to take action.
In closing arguments Monday, Franklin said Beagley recorded the punishment on Oct. 21, 2010, for a segment of the show titled “Mommy Confessions.”
Beagley’s lawyer countered that she made the video and eventually went on the show because she was desperate to find help for her son.
Both prosecutors and the defense attorney acknowledged that the eight-minute video showing Beagley punishing the boy was hard to watch.
“There is no reason in the world why someone has to hurt a child to get on a reality show,” Franklin said in her closing argument.
When the episode aired, it sparked public outrage in Russia, with some people demanding the boy and his twin brother, who were both adopted by Beagley and her husband, be returned to their native country.
Franklin told the jury it wasn’t Beagley’s first attempt to get on the “Dr. Phil” show.
After seeing a segment in April 2009 titled “Angry Moms,” she contacted the show but heard nothing for a year and a half, Franklin said.
The show eventually called to find out if Beagley was still angry, she said.
Beagley then submitted audition videos in which she yelled at the boy, but producers said they needed to see her actually punishing her son, the prosecutor said.
That’s when Beagley got the video camera ready, made sure there was enough hot sauce on the shelf in the bathroom and recruited her 10-year-old daughter to shoot the video, Franklin said. Days later, she was headed to Los Angeles to tape the show that first aired on Nov. 17, 2010.
Dr. Phil McGraw describes Beagley’s actions as brutal and abusive, according to a transcript of the show.
“I think anybody would look at that and say that that is absolutely outrageous, it is over the top, it is abusive, it is inefficient, it is — it is out of control,” McGraw said in the transcript after portions of the video were shown.
The show provided the Beagleys with an evaluation of the boy and counseling.
More recently, the boy has been diagnosed with reactive attachment disorder and is in therapy.
In his closing arguments, Ingaldson encouraged the jury to look closely at other footage submitted to the show in which Beagley coaches the children on not getting into trouble and reminding them of what happens if they do.
“She is not trying to get these kids to misbehave. She is trying to do the opposite,” Ingaldson said.