An Alaska woman was convicted Tuesday of misdemeanor child abuse after squirting hot sauce into the mouth of her adopted Russian son as punishment in what prosecutors said was a ploy to get on the "Dr. Phil" TV show.
Prosecutors also said defendant Jessica Beagley, 36, of Anchorage made the 7-year-old boy stand in a cold shower when he misbehaved. Both actions were recorded on videotape.
Neither Beagley nor her husband Gary Beagley, an Anchorage police officer, showed any emotion when the seven-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 Court Judge David Wallace. She remains free without bail because the case is a misdemeanor.
Prosecutor Cynthia Franklin also left the courtroom without commenting.
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 that could not be done by anybody in Alaska because the Beagleys had already been investigated by the office of children's services, which found no reason to take any 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 defense lawyer countered that she made the video and eventually went on the show because she was desperate to find help for her son, a Russian orphan with psychological and emotional problems.
Beagley was forced to use unconventional means of punishment because traditional methods didn't work, Ingaldson said.
The eight-minute video shows Beagley confronting the boy about misbehaving in school and lying, then pouring hot sauce into the crying child's mouth and not allowing him to spit it out for more than a minute.
The footage also shows Beagley forcing the screaming boy into a cold shower before sending him off the bed.
"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.
Recruited daughter to shoot video
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.
A spokeswoman for the show, Stacey Luchs, declined to comment to The Associated Press after closing arguments Monday. The show previously provided an evaluation of the boy and counseling.
Beagley and her husband had tried more traditional means of punishment, such as timeouts and television restrictions, but none of the tactics worked with one of the twins, who did such things as urinating on the floor, Ingaldson said. 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.
The Beagleys, who have four biological children, adopted the Russian boys in 2008.