Jury deliberates on abuse charges against parents of large family

Jurors in Brownsville deliberated most of the day Monday in a child abuse case.

A Gibson County couple, Tom and Debra Schmitz, are accused of physically and mentally abusing children they took into their care through private adoptions or foster care arrangements.

Tom Schmitz faces five charges of child abuse and neglect and one charge of trafficking in children. His wife, Debra Schmitz, faces 19 counts of child abuse and one count of trafficking in children.

Authorities removed 18 children from the Schmitz home in 2004 and put them in state custody. The children ranged in age from 1 to 17 years old, and many of them were characterized as "special needs" because of emotional or physical disabilities.

Prosecutors have said the Schmitzes took in the children to get government payments totaling about seven-thousand dollars a month to care for them. The couple is accused of beating children, locking them in a cage and forcing them to dig holes for their own graves.

Deliberations will resume Tuesday morning.

(Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)