Parker County grand jury indicts 4 in abuse of special-needs child

Four adults whose discipline of an 11-year-old boy with special needs included rubbing his face in ketchup on a wall and holding him down on a kitchen table while two of the adults paddled him with a plastic cutting board have been indicted by a Parker County grand jury on charges of injury to a child.

Child Protective Services and Weatherford police began investigating the case on Feb. 15 after the boy's mother, Gina Delynn Murasky, 39, told staff at her son's elementary school that scratches on the boy's face had been caused by another child and asked them not to contact CPS, according to court documents.

A school nurse who examined the boy found severe bruises, including five belt-buckle-shaped bruises on his back and legs, and others that covered about 80 percent of his buttocks, later determined to have been caused when he was hit with the cutting board.

Murasky, her boyfriend, Russell Scott Herrick, 34, and a couple who share the residence -- Karen Denise Horner, 31, and Jason Radell Harnsberger, 37 -- were arrested two days later.

The four were released from jail on $30,000 bail each. The indictments on the third-degree felony charges were returned April 26.

Courts records state that Harnsberger is the father of Murasky's 16-year-old daughter, who also lived in the household. On Feb. 16, Murasky's children were placed in foster care where they remained on Wednesday, according to CPS.

Horner is Harnsberger's current girlfriend. Her four children, also part of the household, were placed with their biological father, according to the CPS petition.

Murasky's son has been diagnosed as mentally retarded and reportedly functions at a second-grade level, according to the CPS petition.

The four suspects gave investigators varying accounts about their own and the others' roles in the boy's discipline, according to court documents.

According to a CPS petition, the ketchup incident occurred after the boy, angry that other children were given candy but he was not, threw ketchup on a wall, kicked his mother and Horner, and hit a window. Witnesses said Murasky placed her son on the kitchen table, and she and Horner held the boy down while Harnsberger and Herrick took turns paddling him with the 6-by-8-inch cutting board, described as being about a half-inch thick.

Harnsberger told police that he was in charge of discipline in the household.

After the boy refused to clean the ketchup from the wall, Harnsberger told police, he picked the boy up off the ground by his ears and rubbed his face in the ketchup "like you would a dog on the carpet."

Harnsberger acknowledged paddling the boy five or six times but denied the seriousness of the situation, the petition states.

Herrick acknowledged paddling the boy twice at Murasky's request but agreed that the boy was hit too many times and "it was not right," the petition states. Herrick said he had never previously spanked the boy.

"Russell stated [the boy's] special needs require special treatment. Russell stated everyone in the house beats on [the boy] and he acts aggressive, " the petition quoted Herrick as saying.

Horner told police that Murasky's son has mental retardation, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, Tourette syndrome and oppositional defiant disorder, defined by the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry as an "ongoing pattern of uncooperative, defiant and hostile behavior toward authority figures that seriously interferes with the youngster's day-to-day functioning." The boy weighs 60 to 70 pounds; the four adults range in weight from 190 to 299 pounds, she told police.

Horner said her own 8-year-old son was told to attack the boy, but she told investigators she could not remember by whom.

The 8-year-old told investigators that he gouged at the 11-year-old's face, causing one of the scratches near the boy's eye, because his mother and Harnsberger "let me take him out," according to the court documents.

Murasky's mother, who was not present, told investigators she believed that her grandson was spanked, not beaten, and that the only way the boy would learn "is if someone is a bigger bully than he is," according to the CPS investigation.

According to the petition, CPS had investigated 14 previous reports of neglect or abuse involving the 11-year-old boy and/or his half-sister from 1995 to 2011. All of the investigations were closed as either "ruled out" or unsubstantiated.

Marissa Gonzales, a CPS spokeswoman, said the boy and his half-sister are doing well in foster care. She said Murasky has begun following a program that includes parenting and anger management classes.

Staff writer Lance Winter contributed to this report.

Deanna Boyd, 817-390-7655

Twitter: @deannaboyd

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