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Woman Sentenced To Stay On Birth Control for Child-Bearing Years

May 25, 1988

PHOENIX, Ariz. (AP) _ An 18-year-old woman who pleaded guilty to leaving her two infant sons alone without food or water for nearly three days has been ordered by a judge to practice birth control for the rest of her child-bearing years.

Other terms of a lifetime probation state that she is prohibited from seeing the two boys as well as a daughter she later gave birth to and must provide weekly reports to the probation office on her birth control use.

″It’s an incredible sentence,″ one civil liberties lawyer said. Defense and civil liberties lawyers said they believed the sentence is unlikely to withstand an appeal.

Judge Lindsay Ellis Budzyn of Maricopa County Superior Court on Tuesday also placed Debra Ann Forster of Mesa on lifetime probation.

″Your case represents the epitome of what’s wrong with our society: a child having children,″ Budzyn said when she handed down her decision.

″I know I did something wrong, and I have to pay for it,″ Ms. Forster replied. ″I’m sorry.″

Ms. Forster pleaded guilty in April to two counts of felony child abuse for leaving her two sons, William, then 18 months, and Scott, then 6 months, alone in an apartment, without food or water, for nearly three days last May.

She could have received a maximum of 30 years in prison.

The children were hospitalized eight days for malnutrition, lesions caused by a rash and dehydration. Scott was close to death from dehydration when he was found, the police said.

Temperatures for the three-day period ranged from 100 during the day and 73 at night; the average was 87 degrees, the National Weather Service said Wednesday.

Ms. Forster showed up at Mesa police headquarters after the children were found May 18 by her estranged husband, Bill, who called the police.

Efforts to contact Forster for comment on the sentencing were not successful; he is not listed in local telephone directories.

Ms. Forster gave birth to a daughter while in jail awaiting trial on the child abuse charges. According to court records, a family friend adopted the daughter, and the sons were being placed through an adoption agency.

Ms. Forster was released from custody Tuesday and will live in a local treatment center. Court officials have refused to release the name of the center, saying Ms. Forster has received death threats.

The judge’s office said Wednesday she was in court and unavailable for comment.

But because the terms of probation could be reviewed, Budzyn told radio station KFYI, she considers the case still pending and was reluctant to discuss specifics.

″It’s an incredible sentence,″ said Alice Bendheim, a lawyer who specializes in civil liberties cases and who is on the the American Civil Liberties Union’s national board.

Ms. Bendheim said she doubted the sentence would hold up under constitutional pressures.

″I’m sure Judge Budzyn thought it was a sentence that fit the crime but we have a system that doesn’t allow such an intrusion into private life,″ Ms. Bendheim said.

″I think the court has acted outside its role and limitations,″ said Bruce Griffen, who was the defense attorney in a 1986 Coconino County case of a man convicted in Flagstaff of child abuse in the death of an infant.

In that case, the trial judge sentenced the man to undergo sterilization, but the sentence was vacated by the Arizona Supreme Court.

Griffen said that ruling could apply to an appeal of the sentence by Ms. Forster’s attorney, Assistant Public Defender Robert Billar.

Billar was said by his office to be in court Wednesday and not available for comment.

However, the Mesa Tribune reported that Billar during Tuesday’s sentencing said the order for Ms. Forster to stay on birth control violated her right to privacy.

Louis Rhodes, executive director of the Arizona affiliate of the ACLU, said Wednesday the ACLU would, if asked by Ms. Forster’s attorney, provide assistance on any appeal.

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