DETROIT (AP) — A boy reported missing for 11 days before he was found in his Detroit basement testified Wednesday that his stepmother ordered him down there and told him to “shut up and be quiet” while investigators scoured the neighborhood searching for him last June.
Charlie Bothuell, 13, spoke publicly for the first time about his days in a dark basement cluttered with boxes. He said he occasionally went upstairs when no one was around to get leftover food and use the bathroom, but that he never left the home.
He blamed stepmother Monique Dillard-Bothuell for his plight and said he was too afraid of her to seek help.
“My word didn’t really matter over hers,” Charlie said.
He testified at a hearing that will determine whether Dillard-Bothuell and Charlie’s father, also named Charlie Bothuell, will go to trial on torture and child abuse charges. Defense lawyers claim the boy is lying.
Two weeks ago, Charlie described his home as a “terrible place” and said he was beaten with a plastic pipe by his father, removed from school, isolated from other kids and forced to perform daily rigorous exercises.
Back in the witness chair Wednesday, Charlie said Dillard-Bothuell ordered him to the basement when he had taken a bathroom break during a workout on an elliptical machine. He said she gave him dry cereal, protein shakes and two electronic devices.
“She said if I heard anything just shut up and be quiet. … I didn’t know what was going to happen to me if I didn’t listen,” Charlie told a judge. “I had been threatened before that she would kill me.”
He said he heard Dillard-Bothuell call his father and say he was missing.
“I remember my dad coming home, and he came down and looked around,” Charlie said. “I’m not sure where he looked exactly. He was moving stuff around and checking to see if I was in the basement.”
During cross-examination, defense attorney Godfrey Dillard noted that Charlie’s mother, Africa Shippings, was at the home soon after the boy was reported missing.
“Why didn’t you just walk up the stairs and say, ‘Mom, here I am,'” Dillard asked.
“I don’t know,” replied Charlie, who gave the same answer when repeatedly asked why he didn’t flee the house.
The elder Bothuell was giving an interview to cable TV host Nancy Grace on June 25 when he learned that Charlie had been found by police after 11 days. He expressed surprise and said he didn’t know his son was in the basement.
“I thought my son was dead,” the father told reporters.
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