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Published: Thursday, 5/17/2007

South Toledo parents plead not guilty to endangering

Jessica Botzko and John Westover listen at the arraignment. Jessica Botzko and John Westover listen at the arraignment.

With their newly appointed attorneys standing beside them, Jessica Botzko and John Westover pleaded not guilty yesterday in Lucas County Common Pleas Court to charges stemming from accusations that they locked their two young sons in cages.

The South Toledo couple, both of 3019 Nebraska Ave., Lot 22, were each charged with two counts of child endangering and one count of possessing criminal tools. If convicted, they each face a maximum of 11 years in prison.

Authorities said they kept their children, ages 5 and 10, in small cages and used an animal-training collar to shock the older one.

Judge Linda Jennings ordered a $100,000 bond on each count of child endangering, a $25,000 bond for the possessing criminal tools charge, and set a July 17 trial date.

Attorney Ann Baronas, who was appointed to represent Ms. Botzko, 28, declined comment after the arraignment. Attorney Deborah Rump was appointed to represent Westover, 37.

Westover was being held in the Corrections Center of Northwest Ohio, Stryker. His girlfriend, Ms. Botzko, was being held in the Lucas County jail.

Lucas County Children Services has placed their sons in foster care.

The boys fled their mobile home May 1 and went to a house in the 300 block of Westwood Avenue to escape being locked in cages and, for the older boy, being shocked, police said.

Police arrested their parents the next day and seized a small wire cage with chain and padlocks in their home. Police said the boys were in cages as a form of punishment and during times when their father was involved in drugs.

Westover also faces a misdemeanor child endangerment charge in Maumee after Maumee police found the children living in squalor in a Dussel Drive motel in 2004.

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