Paul Matthew Comer and Sheila Marie Comer (Courtesy of Paulding County Sheriff)
DALLAS, Ga. -- Paulding County Magistrate Judge Martin Valbuena refused to throw out child cruelty and false imprisonment charges against Paul and Sheila Comer on Thursday, sending the case on to a grand jury for possible indictments.
Judge Valbuena said parents have a right to send children to their room or to bed early without dinner to discipline them.
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But after hearing testimony about Mitch Comer's alleged long term confinement he said, "holding a kid in a room or bathroom like that steps over the line."
The judge also denied a defense request to let the parents go free on $10,000 bond each with the conditions that they wear GPS ankle monitoring devices and not have any contact with the son who claims they abused him.
The judge cited an investigator's testimony that the Comers had lived in 15 places in 5 states since the late 1990's and the implication that they may have left Cherokee County after a 2009 inconclusive child abuse investigation there.
Valbuena indicated he might reconsider granting bond in a few weeks, depending on further investigation of why the family moved so many times.
But he said the bond would be more like $50,000 each instead of the $10,000 the defense had requested.
According to a Paulding County Sheriff detective, 18-year-old Mitch Comer looked more like a 12-year-old when he brought him back from Los Angeles last month.
Sgt. Kevin Morgan said the boy appeared very malnourished, at only just over 5 feet tall and 87 pounds and still had some of his baby teeth.
Mitch's father had put him on a bus to LA with about $400, allegedly telling him they never wanted to see him again.
The boy told police he went willingly to pursue an acting career.
Sgt. Morgan was the first witness in a probable cause hearing for the boy's parents, 48-year-old Paul and 39-year-old Sheila Comer.
They face charges of child cruelty and false imprisonment for allegedly keeping their son locked up in his room for up to 4 years.
Under cross examination by defense attorneys, Sgt. Morgan admitted they had little to go on other than the boy's claims and his physical condition.
He said in a video interview the father did admit punishing Mitch by keeping him in his room, but not nearly as long as the boy claimed.
Paul Comer said Mitch was punished for things like getting suspended from school for sexual harassment.
But Comer insisted the boy was given the same food the family ate at least 3 times a day.
Sgt. Morgan said Mitch has gained 10 pounds and had his baby teeth removed since being placed with another family.
Detective Kyle Shelton testified that Mitch's 11 and 13-year-old sisters told investigators they could sometimes hear their brother cry out for food when confined and that they had not seem him for about 2 years.
The girls are now in DFCS custody.
Det. Shelton claimed Paul Comer "admitted everything" in the police interview, calling the treatment of his son "punishment".
Defense attorneys say the son's claims of abuse are exaggerated and that he often stayed in his room voluntarily, living as a recluse.