A grandfather was found guilty of child abuse for forcing his grandsons on grueling hikes in the Grand Canyon in searing August heat, withholding food and water and choking and kicking them during the long treks.
An Arizona jury found Christopher Alan Carlson of Indianapolis guilty on three of six charges of child abuse stemming from the Aug. 15 and Aug. 28 hikes. A criminal complaint had said that Carlson put his grandsons in circumstances “likely to cause death or serious bodily injuries.” Prosecutors told jurors that he deprived the boys of food and water during the hikes. The boys – 8, 9 and 12 at the time – reported that they did get some water, but not always enough, and ate celery and other snacks during the hike.
Defense attorney Jeffrey Williams argued that the 45-year-old Carlson as an active health nut who had a firm hand and wanted to show the boys the world.
Investigators have said that Carlson told them that the boys were overweight and that he thought hiking the Grand Canyon would help get them into shape. All three of the boys testified during the trial. The oldest described secretly asking a hiker to call 911 toward the end of a 19-mile hike on Aug. 28 after he started throwing up, falling down because of cramping and experiencing changes to his vision.
The oldest child told jurors that he threw up several times and said Carlson denied him water at various instances while sipping from a jug himself. He said his grandfather got mad whenever he started walking too slow, and at one point hit him in the face with a rock, causing his lips to bleed. The boy said Carlson was in a hurry to get to the top of the Grand Canyon so he could see the sunset.
The prosecutor told jurors that the middle child got severe blisters on the first hike and that they hadn’t fully healed by the second hike. She showed jurors photos of the blisters, which turned into bleeding ulcers. The wounds forced the boy to undergo treatment usually reserved for burn patients and he couldn’t wear shoes for weeks.
A nurse also testified and said that all the boys had severely chafed thighs because Carlson didn’t let them wear underwear, and that the boys were dehydrated and had signs of heat stroke and heat exhaustion.
Investigators said the boys were covered in cuts, bruises and scars that backed up their stories.
Carlson is scheduled to be sentenced today. Because the jury convicted him on the three lesser offenses, it was unclear if he could face up to life in prison.
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