Harvard father of ‘malnourished’ boy pleads guilty to reckless conduct

The Harvard father of a child who authorities said was “malnourished” when he was removed from his home in 2020 pleaded guilty Wednesday to reckless conduct.

William Wisner, 43, and the child’s mom, Margaret Wisner, 52, each were charged 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 McHenry County court.

William Wisner entered into a blind plea of guilty to reckless conduct, a Class 4 felony. The charge accused him or someone he was legally responsible for of causing “great bodily harm” resulting in the child becoming “malnourished” because of a lack of adequate medical care or nutrition, according to court documents.

A blind plea means Wisner does not know what his sentence will be when he returns to court June 21. A Class 4 felony carries a prison term of one to three years, or three to six if the judge finds that Wisner is extended-term eligible. Probation also is possible.

Margaret Wisner was sentenced in March to three years in prison. Last September, she was found guilty by the late Judge Michael Coppedge of acting “recklessly” in not providing her son adequate nourishment and medical care for two years. All remaining charges against both Wisners were dismissed.

Prosecutors said that in 2018, a doctor told the child’s mother that the boy’s condition was “deteriorating” and to seek further medical care and testing. The boy weighed only 38 pounds at the time, and she “chose to ignore medical providers’ advice,” prosecutor Sharyl Eisenstein said at Margaret Wisner’s sentencing in asking for the maximum prison sentence of six years.

In 2020, when the boy was removed from the home, he was almost 7 years old and he weighed only 28 pounds, closer to the size of an average 3- or 4-year-old, she said.

He had a “long list of medical conditions,” which were resolved just by eating nutritious food, Eisenstein said.

The child was taken into custody by the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services while he was in the hospital after his mother declined medical treatment, including a feeding tube, according to trial testimony. Doctors testified that he suffered from several medical conditions including anemia, scurvy and a severe vitamin deficiency.

At Margaret Wisner’s sentencing hearing before Judge Mark Gerhardt, her attorney William Bligh, in asking for probation, said the child was diagnosed last year with Crohn’s disease, a fact that Bligh said prosecutors were “glossing over.”

Bligh also said that in 2020 the child was seen by doctors at the Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital in Chicago, and they could not determine what was wrong with him. The child was in a “slow decline” at the same time that Margaret Wisner was diagnosed with cervical cancer in 2019, and then the COVID-19 pandemic hit.

“These are all factors,” Bligh said. “There was stuff happening in the world while she is trying to navigate her family and her health.”