A Harvard mom was found guilty Thursday of acting “recklessly” in not providing her son adequate nourishment and medical care for two years, but she was cleared of the more serious charges that she did so “knowingly.”
McHenry County Judge Michael Coppedge, who oversaw the four-day trial earlier this month, handed down his ruling in the case of Margaret Wisner, 51.
Wisner, along with her husband William Wisner, was charged in 2020 with aggravated battery, aggravated domestic battery, and reckless conduct, all felonies, and endangering the life or health of a child, a misdemeanor, according to the indictment filed in the McHenry County courthouse.
Coppedge found Margaret Wisner guilty of reckless conduct but acquitted her of the other charges, saying she did not “knowingly” provide inadequate nutrition or medical care to her child.
Had the judge convicted her on the more serious Class X aggravated battery offense, she could have faced six to 60 years in prison and she would not have been eligible for probation when sentenced Nov. 30.
The Class 4 felony she was convicted of typically has a sentencing range of one to three years in prison, but because of the child’s age, she is eligible for extended term sentencing of up to six years in prison. The charge also is probational.
After she was found guilty, prosecutors asked that Wisner bond be revoked and she be taken into custody at the county jail. Coppedge declined because she had not missed any court dates and she is in treatment for cancer.
Her husband, who was in the courtroom Thursday, still awaits his trial.
Coppedge said although Wisner did take her son to a doctor and sought “some medical care,” she did not take him for follow up appointments as advised.
However, she did take him to the hospital in November 2020, “and if she intended to abuse (her son) on Nov. 16, 2020, why would she take him at all?” Coppedge said.
He also referred to social media posts and text messages presented during trial in which Wisner shared that her son was not eating well and would only eat cheese crackers.
Coppedge said that if she was “knowingly” causing her son great bodily harm, she would not have shared such statements.
The posts also showed her frustration that he would only eat crackers, he said.
“The defendant is or was either profoundly pathological or these statements are in conflict” with the statute that she “knowingly” did not provide proper nutrition causing him great bodily harm, Coppedge said.
When the Wisners were charged in December 2020, their 6-year-old son was the size of a 3 or 4 year old, weighed just 28 pounds and “was severely underweight, severely malnourished and off the growth charts,” Assistant State’s Attorney Brette Dunbar said during closing arguments earlier this month.
Dunbar said Wisner, who was told by a doctor in 2018 to take her son for blood work and a neurology exam but did not, only fed her son cheese crackers and apple juice, occasionally M&Ms.
She routinely made social media posts that life was difficult with an autistic child, although he was never diagnosed with autism, the prosecutor said.
Dunbar also read a social media post where Wisner said she would do anything to pay for surgery for her cat, who had bladder stones, at a time when her own son was sick and she was not seeking medical care for him.
She also said while Wisner took her other child to doctor’s and dentist’s appointments and she also saw doctors, she did not take her younger son.
Dunbar read posts where Wisner said her son is “unbearable, unreasonable, controlling” and a “tyrant” and that she is “super stressed and exhausted.”
During the trial, an older sibling testified that when his brother was taken to the hospital in November 2020, he was “very sick” and not going to the bathroom “as a normal kid his age should.”
He also said his brother had lost a lot of weight and was “having a hard time moving around.”
Coppedge also noted Thursday that during the trial, Assistant State’s Attorney Sharyl Eisenstein said that when an investigator from the Department of Children and Family Services visited the family home on Nov. 17, 2020, the home was “oddly immaculate,” asserting that was because the Wisners knew the investigator was coming.
Wisner’s defense attorney William Bligh argued the child was not neglected or a victim of battery and that he was offered food but he would not eat.
The child was taken into custody by DCFS while he was in the hospital after his mother declined medical treatment for his multiple medical conditions, including a feeding tube, according to trial testimony. Doctors testified that he suffered from several medical conditions including knock knees, anemia, scurvy and a severe vitamin deficiency.
The child still is in foster care and has recovered from most of his conditions, rides a bike and goes to school; he was evaluated in 2021 and was not diagnosed as autistic, prosecutors said.