Polk County couple arrested after severely abused, beaten teen found in woods avoids prison time

Polk County

Polk County Sheriff’s Office

BARTOW, Fla. (AP/WFLA) — A Polk County couple won’t serve any prison time in a child abuse case in which a malnourished, injured teenage girl was found hiding in the woods.

A Polk County circuit judge opted instead of prison to sentence 49-year-old Kris Peters on Friday to 15 years’ probation after he pleaded guilty to a charge of child neglect with great bodily harm.

His wife, 37-year-old Melissa Peters, previously pleaded no contest to the same charge and also was sentenced to probation.

They were charged after a 17-year-old girl in their care was found underweight, losing her hair and injured while hiding in the woods.

Back in 2016 when the incident took place, News Channel 8 spoke with a Dundee man who found the badly beaten teen calling for help.

“She said, Can you help me?’ Over and over, ‘Can you help me?’ I thought it was a joke at first,” said Michael Hickin.

When he got closer, he couldn’t believe what he saw.

“She was tangled up in the brush. She was like, ‘I’m trapped in the woods. My shoulder is broke,’ and I’m like, ‘Okay, I’m going to run and get my mom,’ and she called the sheriff’s office,” Hickin said. “We definitely were there for a reason.”

An exam revealed the 17-year-old had a stab wound, a broken shoulder, infected sores, and bruises.

The relationship between the couple and the girl was not disclosed to keep the girl’s identity private.

In an interview with detectives, the girl said she had been beaten for several months with a metal pipe. She also said she was stabbed with a pocketknife and kicked with metal-studded boots.

The girl said she had to steal food while her abusers were not looking. She told investigators she was not allowed to use a restroom and, because of this, she soiled herself and had not bathed in nearly nine months.

According to documents, the couple said the girl suffered from mental illness and caused her own injuries, yet neither tried to get medical or mental health treatment for her.


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