Imprisonment trial set to begin Monday

Vancouver couple accused of locking autistic boys in room

By Laura McVicker, Columbian staff writer

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Opening statements are expected Monday in the trial of a Vancouver couple accused of imprisoning two young autistic boys in a dark, mostly empty room.

Twelve jury members and two alternates were seated late Thursday. The trial in Clark County Superior Court Judge Robert Lewis’ courtroom is set to begin Monday and last five days.

Alayna Higdon, 27, and John Eckhart, 31, are charged with unlawful imprisonment of Eckhart’s sons between Oct. 1, 2010, and April 12, 2011.

The couple were arrested April 12, 2011, after Vancouver police officers found the boys, ages 5 and 7, locked in a dark room with a metal slatted door inside the couple’s apartment at Springfield Meadows, off Andresen Road. They had no toys and shared a single mattress. The boys were wearing diapers and were not receiving medical attention or enrolled in school, police said.

The case surfaced after an apartment maintenance worker performed a routine premises check and notified authorities. The children were then placed in protective custody by Child Protective Services.

The defense, based on pretrial hearings, is expected to focus on adequate and safe parenting methods of autistic children.

Unlawful imprisonment carries a minimum sentence of one to three months in jail. Prosecutors filed aggravating factors in the case, which could bring a sentence above the standard range.