Married couple 'kept five adopted black children locked in garden shed and used them as slaves'

26 June 2024, 10:45

The couple are accused of keeping the children in a shed
The couple are accused of keeping the children in a shed. Picture: West Virginia Regional Jail & Correctional Facility Authority

By Kit Heren

A white married couple is accused of keeping their five adopted black children in a barn and using them as slaves.

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Donald Ray Lantz, 63, and Jeanne Kay Whitefeather, 62, from the US state of West Virginia, have appeared in court accused of child neglect, human trafficking and forced labour.

They are said to have targeted the children because of their race.

Both Lantz and Whitefeather deny the charges against them.

Judge Maryclaire Akers said they had used the children "basically as slaves", adding that the charges were among the worst she's ever seen.

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Donald Ray Lantz
Donald Ray Lantz. Picture: West Virginia Regional Jail & Correctional Facility Authority

She added: "Human rights violations specific to the fact that these children were targeted because of their race and they were used basically as slaves from what the indictment alleges."

A court filing said that neighbours "also reported that the children were forced to perform farm labor and were not permitted inside the residence".

The couple were arrested in October 2023 after a welfare check found two of the five adopted children - who are aged six, nine, 11, 14 and 16 - living in squalor in the barn.

Police are said to have found the 14-year-old and 16-year-old locked inside the barn, which had a portaloo, but no running water or lights.

Jeanne Jay Whitefeather
Jeanne Jay Whitefeather. Picture: West Virginia Regional Jail & Correctional Facility Authority

The children said they had to sleep on the concrete floor without mattresses. They had dirty clothes and smelled of body odour. The 14-year-old had "open sores on his bare feet", according to the court filing.

The nine-year-old was inside the main house, while Lantz and Whitefeather arrived separately with the two other children.

Whitefeather claimed it was "a clubhouse" and the children liked it.

Bail for the couple has been set at $500,000 each (roughly £394,000).

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