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Pennsylvania family take plea deal in starving boy case

By Elizabeth Daley

PITTSBURGH (Reuters) - The mother and grandparents of a 7-year-old Pennsylvania boy who was starved nearly to death have pleaded guilty to assault and other crimes in a deal with prosecutors, Mercer County District Attorney Robert Kochems said on Friday.Kochems said the boy's mother, Mary Rader, 28, and his grandmother, Deana Beighley, 48, pleaded guilty to first degree felony aggravated assault, which carries a mandatory sentence of 5 to 10 years in prison.

Beighley's husband, Dennis Beighley, 59, pleaded guilty to the third degree felony of endangering the welfare of a child for his role in the abuse, in the town of Greenville, about 80 miles north of Pittsburgh. In Pennsylvania a third-degree felony carries a maximum possible sentence of seven years in prison and up to $15,000 in fines.

The three were initially charged with attempted murder and other crimes and had been set to go on trial in March for abusing the boy, who was starved, beaten and only permitted to bathe in icy water, according to the criminal complaint.

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The more serious charges were dismissed on Friday as part of the plea deal.

The criminal complaint alleged the boy was not allowed out of the house except for the back porch, where he would catch bugs and eat them. Though there were other children in the house, the boy was singled out for special torture, according to the complaint.

He was pulled out of school in August 2013 and weighed less than 25 pounds (11 kg) when he was rescued in June 2014 after neighbors called authorities. School officials said that before the boy was removed from Hempfield Elementary School, his mother sent a note to school asking them not to serve breakfast to her son.

Kochems said he was satisfied with the plea deal, but upset by the circumstances surrounding it. "We are never happy when we have to deal with children who are injured, but sadly it's far too common," he said.

All three will be formally sentenced on April 27, after the judge reviews Rader's psychological evaluation, Kochems said.

They have all been held at the Mercer County Jail since their arrest in August 2014. Their lawyers could not be reached for comment.

(Editing by Fiona Ortiz and Sandra Maler)