Harvard dad of ‘severely malnourished’ child gets 2 years of probation, 180 days in jail: ‘I am truly sorry’

“I under-reacted to a major, major problem,’ William Wisner said

A Harvard dad whose son was described by doctors as “severely malnourished” when removed from his home in 2020 apologized Friday before being sentenced to two years of probation and 180 days in the county jail.

William “Sam” Wisner, 43, pleaded guilty in May to one count of reckless conduct, a Class 4 felony. Judge Mark Gerhardt set aside the jail time until Dec. 1, 2025. Wisner also is required to pay $3,674 in fines and fees.

In 2020, William Wisner and the child’s mom, Margaret Wisner, 52, both 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.

The additional charges were dismissed against William Wisner. Margaret Wisner was sentenced in March to three years in prison. Last September, she was found guilty of acting “recklessly” in not providing her son adequate nourishment and medical care for two years.

The couple has two children together. In court Friday, William Wisner asked for leniency so he could care for the couple’s other child, who has a disability, and to keep the job he has had for 23 years.

Wisner told the court Friday, “I am truly sorry for my actions,” which led to his child becoming what doctors said at Margaret’s trial was “severely malnourished” and dehydrated.

He said his wife, whom he is now divorcing, was the person who took the child to doctor appointments while he was at work and would relay to him what doctors said.

“I under-reacted to a major, major problem, and for that I am truly sorry,” William Wisner said.

Since the charges were brought, he said he has begun divorce proceedings and for a time was homeless. He now is back in the house caring for his other son, he said. He said he is in therapy for himself as well as family therapy with his son.

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. Prosecutors said Margaret Wisner did not heed the medical advice, and the child’s condition worsened.

In 2020, when the boy was removed from the home, he was almost 7 years old, and he weighed only 28 pounds, Assistant State’s Attorney Sharyl Eisenstein said. He was the size of a 3- or 4-year-old child, prosecutors have said.

“Over a period of years” the child went from being healthy to “on the brink of death,” Eisenstein said Friday, adding that all he needed was food. She said William Wisner’s “failure to act” contributed to the boy’s decline.

Eisenstein said the child was only fed cheese crackers and peanut M&Ms. His condition began to improve after being removed from the home and being fed nutritious foods, but he will need to watch his health for the rest of his life, she said.

Although Eisenstein asked that William Wisner be sentenced to a two-year prison term, she acknowledged that “he did take responsibility. He testified against [the boy’s mother] and pleaded guilty.”

William Wisner’s attorney, Matthew Haiduk, said his client did not intend “to minimize the horrible condition” the child was in but said since the case began, “[William Wisner] has lost it all.”

William Wisner, Haiduk said, was given information about the child’s health from his wife and believed that he may have had a condition or autism. He recognized that the child’s diet “had become limited ... and day by day it got worse,” Haiduk said.

The child was never diagnosed as autistic, prosecutors have said.

In arguing for probation, Haiduk said that William Wisner cooperated with the Department of Children and Family Services, has no criminal background and never missed a court date.

“He takes full responsibility,” the attorney said.

Before announcing his sentence, Gerhardt said that what happened to the child is “horrific and has the potential to be long lasting. [This] is a tragedy for that young man and the family.”

He also acknowledged that William Wisner took responsibility for his part in his child’s deterioration and the different ways each parent handled their charges.

“It’s sad to see,” Gerhardt said, “sad for everyone in this matter.”

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