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News / Clark County News

Adoptive parents testify in death of disabled Vancouver boy, say they never withheld food as punishment

Felicia Adams, husband Jesse Franks accused of murder and abuse in death of 15-year-old Karreon Franks

By Jessica Prokop, Columbian Local News Editor
Published: October 26, 2023, 6:59pm
8 Photos
Felicia Adams takes the stand at the Clark County Courthouse on Thursday morning. Adams was the adoptive mother of a 15-year-old Vancouver boy who died in November 2020.
Felicia Adams takes the stand at the Clark County Courthouse on Thursday morning. Adams was the adoptive mother of a 15-year-old Vancouver boy who died in November 2020. (Amanda Cowan/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

Both adoptive parents on trial for murder and abuse in their 15-year-old Vancouver son’s November 2020 starvation death took the witness stand Thursday.

Felicia L. Adams, 54, testified she didn’t notice Karreon Franks becoming thinner in the months before his death, but she said someone brought it to her attention earlier that month. She made a doctor’s appointment for him for Nov. 11, she said, but it was pushed to Nov. 30 due to a scheduling conflict with her own doctor’s appointment.

She denied that Karreon had become “extremely skinny” at that point.

He died three days before that rescheduled appointment. He weighed 61 pounds. The prosecution said he had lost 47 percent of his body weight since he was last weighed by a doctor in July 2019.

Adams’ husband, Jesse C. Franks, 58, testified that although he noticed Karreon and his two younger brothers had lost weight over the course of COVID-19 lockdowns, he didn’t believe anything was wrong until the evening before Karreon’s death. He noted Karreon was acting sluggish and had fallen a couple of times.

Franks shared his concerns with his wife, he said, and she told him Karreon had an upcoming doctor’s appointment.

When asked how he felt about Karreon’s death, Franks choked up.

“It wasn’t right. He shouldn’t have. He shouldn’t have,” he said, wiping tears from his face. “I feel like I should have done something, you know. I’m so used to being out of the way. … But I felt like something should have been done.”

Jury to decide case

The couple are facing domestic violence charges of homicide by abuse and second-degree murder in Karreon’s death and two counts of second-degree criminal mistreatment of Karreon’s brothers, then 14 and 13 years old. Adams is additionally facing second-degree manslaughter, as a lesser charge to homicide by abuse. There are a number of aggravating factors attached to the charges, as well.

Their joint trial began Oct. 16 in Clark County Superior Court, and the case is anticipated to go to the jury today. Closing arguments began late Thursday afternoon.

Prosecutors say Karreon and his brothers were accustomed to food restriction and corporal punishment in the home. But Adams and Franks’ defense attorneys say Karreon’s medical conditions were to blame for his death.

Karreon was severely developmentally delayed and autistic, to the point he was nearly nonverbal. He was also legally blind and used a cane to get around, both the defense and prosecution told the jury.

Adams initially fostered Karreon and his brothers and then legally adopted them in 2012; they are her half-sister’s children, she testified. Franks did not formally adopt the boys, despite being married to Adams at the time and the boys taking his last name.

He testified Adams ran the household, controlled the finances, and oversaw the boys’ care, including their medical and dental needs, and schooling. He largely “stayed out of it,” he said.

Karreon’s last day

Adams described the morning of Karreon’s death.

She could hear his brothers fussing with him, she said, and one of the boys came and got her. He said Karreon wouldn’t get out of bed, she testified.

When she entered their bedroom, she and Karreon said good morning, she testified, and he said “eat.” She told him he could eat after he was bathed because he had soiled his pants. His brothers then helped her get Karreon to the bathroom and into the tub.

Adams began washing Karreon, she said, and after a few minutes, he placed his arm on the end of the tub and laid down his head. She told him to sit up and he responded. But when he laid down his head again, he became nonresponsive, she testified. His body then started to slide down.

She testified she had a feeling something was wrong, so she asked one of Karreon’s brothers to bring a blanket into the bathroom. Franks removed Karreon from the tub and wrapped him in the blanket.

“The rest is kind of a blur. I do remember, I remember just being scared, not sure what was happening at the moment,” Adams testified.

Franks put Karreon in the car, he testified, and Adams drove the boy to PeaceHealth Southwest Medical Center.

Franks testified Adams drove Karreon to the hospital rather than call 911 because they thought it would be faster.

Adams pulled into the patient pickup and drop-off area, she said, and asked for help. She said staff asked her routine questions, and the next thing she remembered was being walked back to the treatment area. She was in a room next to Karreon’s, she said, and could hear doctors working on him. Then, a doctor entered her room and told her they had done everything they could. She said she was told he died from cardiac arrest.

She testified that she went home to take some medication and called a funeral home.

On cross-examination, the prosecution asked both Adams and Franks about being captured on video surveillance at the ilani casino just hours after Karreon’s death and again that evening. Adams said she didn’t remember going to the casino that day.

Both she and Franks testified that Karreon’s brothers would have been left at home. Neither could recall if they told the boys their brother had died before they went to ilani.

Conflicting testimony

Both parents gave conflicting testimony, at times, about the use of physical discipline in the household and whether food was withheld from Karreon and his brothers as a form of punishment.

Adams testified she spanked Karreon’s brothers as a form of discipline, as did Franks, who said he used a belt and paddle at times. Adams said she didn’t direct Franks to do so, and she denied using objects to spank the boys. Franks denied physically disciplining Karreon.

They agreed Karreon was food-obsessed and triggered by the sight of food.

On cross-examination, Franks said withholding food was never used to discipline the boys. But during his initial testimony, he said the boys would go periods of time without food and that he’d feed them without Adams knowing.

“I couldn’t go with them telling me they’re hungry and do nothing,” he testified.

Franks said he gave food to all of the boys and never prevented them from eating.

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Adams testified Karreon’s brothers were regularly fed dinner and that she never took meals away from them. She said she limited their access to junk food.

She limited Karreon’s food, she said, because he struggled to swallow and would choke. She adjusted his diet, she said, and fed him rice and mashed potatoes, among other soft foods, and encouraged him to chew. Toward the beginning of November 2020, they fed him protein shakes, too, she said.

She testified Karreon ate breakfast and lunch at school — before he moved to virtual learning due to the pandemic — and she didn’t like his school using food as a reward.

“We wanted Karreon to be as normal a kid as the other kids. If the other kids got one meal, he got one meal. If the other kids got one snack, he got one snack. I didn’t want them to treat him any differently than the other kids at school,” she said, tearing up as her attorney asked if she needed a tissue.

Both parents testified Adams had put a lock on the boys’ bedroom door at some point, in part, because they were stealing junk food. They testified the boys were not locked in their room for extended periods of time.

When the prosecution asked if the boys were stealing food because they were hungry, Adams responded, “That’s a matter of opinion.”