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Smithfield — Lynn Paddock will spend her final days the way prosecutors say her son Sean did: trapped.
A Johnston County jury declared Paddock guilty Thursday of first-degree murder and child abuse. She'll likely die in prison after serving a full life sentence for wrapping her 4-year-old adopted son so tightly in blankets that he suffocated.
The judgment caps a case of child abuse so startling that it brought even the most hardened lawmen to tears on the February 2006 day that Sean died.
During the trial, Sean's siblings climbed into the witness box and testified about the abuse they and Sean suffered.
In the end, jurors decided that Paddock — regardless of how damaged she was by her own terrorizing mother growing up — should pay a high price for Sean's death.
It was a bittersweet victory for prosecutors with the Johnston County District Attorney's Office. A first-degree murder conviction is a rare feat for child deaths in North Carolina.
Prosecutor Paul Jackson never met Sean, but the boy's suffering haunted him. As Jackson pleaded with jurors this week to do right by the child everyone else had failed, he fought back tears. Jackson pushed the tears back again Thursday when the life sentence was handed down.
Afterward, he dwelled on the children who escaped the abuse.
"I'm looking forward to telling Hannah, Kayla and David that they never have to be afraid ever again," Jackson said.
Sean's biological family welcomed the news that a jury will make Paddock pay dearly for the boy they didn't get to raise.
"I'm so tickled that a jury decided something has got to be done about child abuse," said Ron Ford Sr., his grandfather. "But, there's really no justice because Sean's not here. I'll never get over that."
Sean and biological siblings David and Hannah were placed in the Paddock home in 2005, after relatives couldn't manage the financial hardship of rearing them.
Children's Home Society, a private adoption agency paid by the state to find adoptive parents for foster children, added the three to Paddocks' three other adopted children and a stepdaughter. The family of nine lived in a tiny farmhouse in a remote crossroads community outside Smithfield. Paddock schooled the children at home. They stopped seeing therapists, taking medicine and playing. They were beaten with plastic plumbing supply lines, ordered to eat feces and vomit, and denied meals.
Family sees culprits
Paddock's family said her own mother undid her as a child, robbing her of food, confidence and safety. Her estranged siblings and former foster family rallied around her this week, pleading with jurors to offer mercy to an abused child who had become a desperate mother.
On Thursday, at their homes in Virginia and West Virginia, they tried to digest the fate that their timid, vulnerable sister has met.
"It's so hard to swallow," stepsister Tanya Luck said. "She's not totally aware of what she's facing. She thinks this must be God's plan."
Paddock's family blames the state for handing over so many troubled children to a woman troubled herself.
They blame Michael Pearl, a minister from Tennessee who writes books advising parents how to raise submissive children. Luck flipped through one of Pearl's books Thursday -- it was among a stack of things Paddock asked her sisters to collect from a rented unit storing all she owned.
"She really believed this stuff," Luck said. "She was so wrapped up."
Mostly, Luck blamed Paddock's ex-husband, Johnny. He divorced his wife after she was arrested for Sean's death. Luck thinks Johnny Paddock's high expectations of his wife drove her to drastic ends.
Johnny Paddock was never charged in Sean's death or the abuse of the other children. All of the Paddock children swear he never hurt them.
Jackson, the prosecutor, said officials didn't have evidence to charge him with a crime and couldn't rely on mere speculation to show that he should have known the children were abused.
Johnny Paddock wasn't in court Thursday to see his wife of 17 years escorted away. Superior Court Judge Knox Jenkins announced after the verdict that Johnny Paddock "would not qualify as a parent by any definition.
"He wasn't aware of the torture and degradation inflicted upon innocent children in his own house? Nonsense."
Like her mother
When pushed, Paddock became her mother, her attorneys and a psychologist testified. She starved, beat and degraded her children the same way her siblings say she was treated as a girl.
No one ever punished Paddock's mother. She lost her children to foster care but was never charged, Paddock's siblings said.
Jackson hopes he's done better by Tami, Jessy, Ray, David, Kayla and Hannah."We've stepped up to end the cycle. I think they can be great parents," Jackson said.