An Arizona woman who abused her quadruplets to within an inch of death in a much-covered case was released from prison Saturday. Elizabeth Shannon Whittle was 23 years old when she was accused of shaking the so-called Avondale Quads so badly she caused retinal bleeding, brain hemorrhages, and skull fractures, leaving one of the kids blind and deaf for life.
The quads weighed only about three pounds each when they were born in December of 1998. They were an object of local fascination before their birth because they had been conceived without fertility drugs, but onlookers blasted the parents for choosing to have more children when they could barely support the one they already had, the Phoenix New Times wrote that September. While people donated to help the kids out, their father, Anthony Perez, lost his $200-a-week job soon after they were born. Yet there was no indication that anything in the children’s lives had gone horribly awry until a good samaritan tipped off a nurse at the Phoenix Children’s Hospital that April.
The woman overheard Whittle tell a man, “I think I shook him too hard this time. I may have broken his back.”
Whittle and Perez were at the hospital after bringing one of their 3-month-old infants in the night before. His head was badly swollen, the New Times reported, and doctors found a fractured skull, broken ribs, and other injuries, including retinal hemorrhage and a bleeding brain. They were consistent with Shaken Baby Syndrome.
His three other siblings were found to have rib fractures, broken limbs, and permanent brain damage. At least one broken bone had been missed by doctors during an earlier visit, according to the paper.
The children “were the victims of severe physical abuse resulting in life-threatening injuries which most likely will result in multiple, lifelong disabilities,” a case worker wrote in her report.
Perez was found guilty of failing to get the infants medical care. He was released from prison in 2004. The Daily Beast’s attempts to locate him were unsuccessful.
Whittle was found guilty of 13 counts of child abuse in 1999. She was sentenced to 172 years in prison.
“They convicted me on lies,” she shouted in the courtroom, according to The Daily Record.
But a potential conflict of interest involving her law firm—one that could’ve seen her sentence overturned on appeal—resulted in a plea deal to just one count of child abuse in 2005. She was sentenced to 17 years, with credit for time served, the AP reported.
Paul McMarnie, the original prosecutor, did not return a request for comment.
Families who adopted the three boys were in favor of the plea because it spared the children a new trial, along with the difficulties of added publicity.
“The county attorney really had his hands tied,” Becky Rowin, who with her husband adopted the quadruplet with the most serious injuries, told The Arizona Republic at the time. “In this case, we had to think about what’s best for the children.”
All of the siblings, now 18 years old, were renamed by their adoptive families and still keep in close contact. Michael and Matthew went home with the Reed family, while Hannah was adopted by the Nelsons.
Brandon, adopted by the Rowins, suffered the most serious injuries of the quadruplets. He remains in a wheelchair and cannot speak. Becky Rowin passed away four years ago, but her husband Kenneth told The Republic that their son still needs full time care.
Sandy Reed, who adopted Michael and Matthew, told The Republic that she didn’t know Whittle’s release date, though she saw it was coming up on the prison’s website. Her sons are “doing good,” she said, though they “have some struggles.”