EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

November 5, 2013

Judge locks up two convicted child abusers

By Paul Tennant
ptennant@eagletribune.com

---- — LAWRENCE — When she was only 5 1/2 weeks old, Autumn Bureau suffered 22 fractures, including a bone in her arm broken in two, and a brain hemorrhage. The little girl also had fractured ribs.

Yesterday, the two people convicted of abusing her, Stephen Amos and Heather Dragotta, the child’s mother, were incarcerated by Superior Court Judge Richard Welch, who found them guilty Oct. 24 after a weeklong trial.

Amos was found guilty of multiple counts of assault and battery on a child while Dragotta was convicted of permitting injury to a child.

As for Autumn, she’s a “happy, healthy 3 1/2-year-old living with her dad,” according to Stephen O’Connell, director of communications for Essex District Attorney Jonathan Blodgett.

Amos, 34, Dragotta’s live-in boyfriend at the time of Autumn’s injuries, June 3, 2010, was sentenced to one to three years at Massachusetts Correctional Institution — Cedar Junction. Welch gave him credit for the 13 days he has been behind bars since his conviction.

Dragotta, 33, will spend the next two months at Framingham State Prison.

Dragotta has maintained that her daughter’s bones were made brittle by rickets, a condition that results from deficiencies of Vitamin D and copper. She even started a Facebook page to promote awareness of the disease.

Welch rejected Dragotta’s contention that brittle bones were at fault.

“I find that she has not accepted responsibility,” the judge said. When her attorney, Ronald Ranta, asked that she receive probation and no jail time, Welch said, “She was a mother who took no care of her child.”

He offered a completely different opinion of Amos, who told investigators he used a “bicycle technique” on the child to relieve gas, according to Amy Silverio, a state Department of Children and Families social worker who testified during the trial. This procedure involved rotating the child’s legs and pressing them against her abdomen.

Amos admitted his actions may have caused Amber’s injuries, Silverio testified. Doctors from Children’s Hospital in Boston, where Autumn was treated, said the injuries were “inflicted.”

“I think Mr. Amos did accept responsibility early on,” Welch said. Aside from the events that resulted in his conviction, Amos has led a “completely unblemished life” — unlike many other people who end up in criminal court, he said.

Welch said he had read all of the many letters friends and relatives had written on behalf of Amos, asking for leniency. Amos’ lawyer, Kevin Mitchell, said Amos earned a master of business administration degree while working full-time at Raytheon.

The letter writers, however, “weren’t there when Mr. Amos behaved in this fashion,” said Welch, who called his actions “completely outrageous.”

“I can’t imagine what was going through his mind during those times,” the judge said.

Autumn is now living with her biological father at an undisclosed location in New Hampshire. She, Dragotta and Amos were living in North Andover when she suffered her injuries.

“I just hope that Autumn does not have any kind of unforeseen long-term effects within her lifetime effects within her lifetime because of the injuries that Stephen Amos caused her,” Autumn’s father wrote in a victim impact statement that Assistant District Attorney Kate MacDougall read to the court. Authorities have not identified the father.

“Heather’s inability to accept fault, blame or truth is despicable,” the father wrote. Like Judge Welch, he dismissed Dragotta’s attempt to claim Autumn’s injuries were caused by brittle bones.

Autumn’s father asked that both defendants be locked up. Regarding Amos, he wrote, “Pushing my infant child’s legs against her torso until she defecated is something that I cringe about every time I hear it. She certainly cried so inconsolably when her arm was broken. When her brain was bleeding, who knows what she was experiencing? I cannot begin to imagine the pain my innocent child felt.”

MacDougall, who prosecuted the case along with Assistant District Attorney Jessica Strasnick, asked that Amos be sent to prison for four to five years. Mitchell urged Welch to put him in a house of correction rather than a prison.

Amos will be on probation for three years after his release from prison. He is barred by the court from any contact with Autumn or her father.

Dragotta received a total jail sentence of two years but will be locked up for two months, with the rest of the term suspended over five years of probation. Welch allowed her to continue having supervised visits with Autumn.

Twenty people sat in the courtroom for the sentencing hearing. Those questioned by a reporter declined to comment.