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Ind. Couple Accused Of Keeping Teen Boy In Dog Cage, Other Abuse

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Vernon D. Widner (left) and Tina Louise Graham allegedly abused Graham's teen son. (Lake County Sheriff's Department)

Vernon D. Widner (left) and Tina Louise Graham allegedly abused Graham’s teen son. (Lake County Sheriff’s Department)

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CROWN POINT, Ind. (CBS) – A Lowell, Ind. couple has been charged with several felonies after a teen boy told authorities his mother and her fiancé kept him locked in a dog cage and administered other forms of abuse over several months.

A 16-count criminal complaint issued last week says Vernon D. Widner, 55, and Tina Louise Graham, 40, both of Lowell, Ind., habitually abused Graham’s teen son between August 2008 and January 2011. In several instances, they allegedly kept the boy in a dog kennel in their home.

“He described the worst time of being locked in the kennel occurring on a particular Saturday when he was locked in the kennel in the morning and not permitted to exit the kennel until the next day,” an investigator said in a probable cause affidavit. “His mother and her  fiancé would regularly eat dinner and stare at him or mock him while he remained locked in the kennel.”

Lake County, Ind. police investigators compiled the allegations against the couple over the past year, as the boy, who has a history of behavioral problems, was in foster care, according to court documents. The alleged victim was 14 as of January 2011.

In addition to confining him in a cage for long periods, the couple also allegedly whipped the teen and threatened him with a knife and gun.

Charges against Widner and Graham include criminal confinement, battery and neglect of a dependent. Widner also faces charges of intimidation and strangulation.

The couple denied they abused the boy, during interviews with authorities.

Published reports said Widner was being held on $70,000 bond at the Lake County Jail, while Graham was released on bond.  The couple’s next court appearance is Jan. 6, according to the Lake County prosecutor’s office.

An earlier northwest Indiana abuse case involving a boy kept in a cage ended in death.

Riley Choate of Hammond, Ind., and his wife, Kimberly Kubina of Gary allegedly kept 13-year-old Christian Choate confined in a dog cage for several months. When the boy died in April 2009, the two allegedly buried him in a Gary trailer park before moving away, authorities say. The body was not discovered until May 2011.

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