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Idaho couple convicted of starving 5-year-old girl to point of heart attack

June 23, 2022 Updated Thu., June 23, 2022 at 9:16 p.m.

By Alex Brizee The Idaho Statesman

BOISE – An Idaho girl was 5 years old when she suffered a heart attack because of a lack of care from her then-guardians. Now, almost five years later, she is “thriving,” according to Ada County Deputy Prosecutor Daniel Dinger.

That moment came out in court in the trial of Gwendalyn and Byron Buthman, who were found guilty Wednesday evening of starving the girl, identified by the initials E.B. in court documents.

The Buthmans each were convicted of two felonies: injury to a child and an enhancement of infliction of great bodily injury, Ada County Prosecutor’s Office spokesperson Emily Lowe told the Statesman by email. In addition, they were each found guilty of a misdemeanor count of injury to a child.

The couple will be sentenced at 1 p.m. Sept. 19 at the Ada County Courthouse, according to online court records. The prosecution requested 4th District Judge Darla Williamson to place the Buthmans in custody now, but the motion was denied, Lowe said.

Sometime between October 2015 to March 2018, E.B. was forced to eat a vegetable protein powder, which E.B. described as “mush.” Additionally, E.B. was isolated from the rest of her family, forced to pick up dog poop as a chore, and slept in the laundry room – sometimes without a mattress, court records show.

“They isolated her from the family, she wasn’t a part of the family unit,” testified Dawn Cliff, a habilitative interventionist who worked with E.B. from September 2017 to February 2018.

E.B. was one of the other witnesses called. On June 7, she took the stand and answered questions from both the prosecution and defense regarding her experience living with the Buthmans.

“When you lived with Gwen and Byron, how did they treat you?” Ada County Deputy Prosecutor Katelyn Margueritte Farley asked.

“Not so good,” E.B. responded.

E.B.’s testimony details mistreatment

In a roughly 1½-hour testimony, E.B. swiveled back and forth in her chair as she was asked question after question about her life with the Buthmans.

The girl said she couldn’t remember everything about her childhood there, but she did remember that once she left, she “felt safe.”

While living with the Buthmans, E.B. said she lived in several rooms, but the laundry room is where she stayed the longest. She said she remembers having a “mattress at one point,” but eventually slept on a thin mat with no blankets.

Cliff testified that E.B. slept on a 1-inch mat a majority of the time.

“She was skinny, her skin was dry,” Cliff said. “She appeared malnourished – just not a healthy kid.”

E.B. was expected to eat the “mush” while her siblings and other members of the family were able to eat “regular food,” E.B. said. The only change to her diet was after she suffered the heart attack – and then PediaSure was added to her meals.

“Since (E.B.) wasn’t using her words to express what she wanted to eat, that’s what they were giving her,” Cliff said.

Additionally, E.B. did not sit with the family during meal times, and would sit in a high chair in the corner.

“I would sit in the high chair for like a couple hours and I have scars on the side of my legs because of that,” E.B. testified.

Cliff said that E.B. wasn’t allowed to sit with the rest of the family because Gwendalyn “was disgusted by the way E.B. ate and didn’t want to see her eating.”

“In general, how did Gwen and Byron treat (E.B.)?” Farley asked Cliff.

“It was very negative,” Cliff responded.

Forced to use the bathroom outside

E.B. was required to drink five to six 16.9 oz bottles of water a day, Cliff testified, which meant that she had to urinate a lot. If E.B. had to go more than once in an hour, she was told to use a five-gallon bucket outside.

“(E.B.) would carry the bucket across the yard and dump it in the back corner,” Cliff said.

In October 2017, E.B. soiled her diaper and was forced to go outside – without shoes or pants – by Gwendalyn Buthman, Cliff said.

Cliff said she looked outside through a window and saw that E.B. was “laying in the grass,” so Cliff said she ran outside and began to call for E.B., but the little girl wasn’t responding.

Cliff then called for Gwendalyn Buthman, who took E.B. upstairs and gave her a bath. After that, Gwendalyn left and came back with an unidentified man.

At that point, Cliff said she took E.B. to the hospital. Cliff wasn’t able to provide additional details once E.B. was in the hospital, as the Buthmans sent her home.

But E.B. had suffered a cardiac arrest.

“I remember Gwen and Byron rushing to the hospital,” E.B. said about what she remembers about her heart attack. “I remember me in front of the swing set not doing anything, just staring, not moving.”

Once E.B. returned from the hospital, Cliff said, she was still forced to perform tasks.

“I did not feel that their home was a healthy environment for her to grow,” Cliff testified.

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