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ELDORA — Prosecutors allege an Ackley woman tried to drive her fiance’s 8-year-old son out of their house by withholding food, barring him from the bathroom and making him sleep in a locked space.

“Her specific intent was to break this kid,” said Assistant Iowa Attorney General Laura Roan.

Roan said Traci Lynn Tyler, 40, wanted the child out of the house and misled care workers to make the third-grader appear to be a “nutcase.”

“We never know what’s really happening behind closed doors. Traci Tyler, the accused, waged a campaign of misinformation aimed at convincing anyone who would listen that (the boy) was deranged, uncontrollable and a defiant little boy,” Roan told the court Wednesday as evidence in Tyler’s bench trial wrapped up.

Roan glared at Tyler during her closing arguments. Tyler didn’t back down, meeting Roan’s gaze.

Tyler, 40, is charged with first-degree kidnapping, a charge that carries a life sentence upon conviction. She waived her right to a jury trial, instead allowing District Court Judge James Ellefson to deliver a verdict.

The boy’s father, Alex Shadlow, also is charged. His trial will be at a later date.

Authorities allege the two made the boy sleep in a locked room behind the basement stairs and withheld food. Iowa Department of Human Services workers and law enforcement intervened in September 2017.

The boy was “confined like a monster, like a dog,” Roan said, “worse than a dog in that house.”

Roan said Tyler concocted a story the boy had behavioral issues at home and problems at school. But Roan said Tyler knew what she was doing to the child was wrong because she didn’t tell Department of Human Service workers or counselors about the confinement until after the boy confided in a teacher.

Tyler also began dismantling the basement enclosure after a DHS worker saw it and tried to shift blame to the boy’s father, Roan said.

The defense didn’t present any witnesses during trial, instead relying on cross-examination of the state’s witnesses.

Defense attorney Ted Fisher said Tyler’s conduct didn’t rise to the level of a crime.

“We’re not suggesting that putting a kid under the stair enclosure is good parenting ... but parents do have the right to inflict corporal punishment,” Fisher said.

Fisher said while school officials hadn’t documented playground fights involving the child, there was evidence through other witnesses they happened. He noted Tyler and Shadlow had sought help earlier.

“We know from the evidence that starting in May, the family was doing a lot to deal with the behavioral issues. They went to a counselor, they eventually went to a psychiatrist,” Fisher said.

“We know there were issues with him urinating and smearing feces on things,” he said.

During closings, the two sides offered their interpretations of a seven-minute video showing the boy standing in the dining room and screaming and shuffling his feet while apparently needing to go to the bathroom.

The defense noted Tyler told officials the boy often held in his urine and refused to go to the bathroom, and Fisher said there was no evidence on the video she was preventing him from going.

The state said Tyler, who apparently filmed the video with her cellphone, wouldn’t let the boy use the restroom. Roan said the boy glanced toward Tyler in the video as if pleading with his eyes for permission.

The boy wasn’t questioned about the video — and four similar but shorter videos — when he took the stand.

Judge Ellefson took the case under advisement at the close of Wednesday’s proceedings and allowed the parties until Feb. 27 to file briefs and further written arguments. He will issue a ruling at a later date.

The defense waived a reading of the verdict in court.

Earlier Wednesday, prosecutors showed photos of marks medical officials found on the boy after he was removed from the home in 2017.

The boy had identified one of the marks, a U- or loop-shaped lesion on a buttock, as an injury from being spanked with the handle of a flyswatter, said Ann Swisher, a pediatric nurse practitioner who works at the UnityPoint-Allen Hospital Child Protection Center in Waterloo.

Swisher said the boy told her Shadlow and Tyler had struck him.

Swisher, who examined the child Nov. 6, 2017, said she wasn’t sure how other marks on the boy occurred and didn’t know when the were inflicted. She said they were in the process of healing.

She testified the boy told her he slept in a closet-sized room in the basement with no pillow or bed. He told her it was dark. To use the bathroom, the boy would bang on the door to be let out, he told her.

Swisher said he told her about an accident he had once because they didn’t hear him banging.

According to her account, the boy said he didn’t get breakfast before school and didn’t always get to eat lunch, which made him feel like he was starving to death.

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