The "tough love' trial is over

  After Arizona teenager Aaron Bacon died of perforated ulcers on a wilderness program for wayward teens two years ago, eight North Star employees were charged with felony neglect and abuse of a disabled child (HCN, 6/10/96). Now their trials are over, and only Bacon's field instructor, 22-year-old Craig Fisher, is guilty as charged.

Although Fisher faces a maximum of five years in prison for a third-degree felony, his colleagues got off considerably lighter: Five employees found guilty of negligent homicide, a misdemeanor in Utah, were punished Nov. 1 with three years' probation, community service and restitution for legal fees. Another employee received a similar sentence earlier this year, while the seventh will likely avoid prosecution through a probation agreement.

Aaron's parents were stunned that jail time was not ordered for more of the defendants. Prosecutors testified that North Star staffers ignored the 16-year-old boy's pleas for medical help and starved him for eight of 21 days spent hiking through canyons south of Escalante, Utah. His mother, Sally Bacon, was especially critical of Georgette Costigan, a licensed medical technician who saw Aaron the day before he died, gave him a piece of cheese and told him to work harder. "She killed my son as surely as she put a gun to his head," she said.

Throughout the case, North Star employees maintained that Aaron's death was an accident: "This is a crime that was committed by good, earnest (people) who fouled up," said defense attorney James Bradshaw. "They are not the demons as they've been characterized."

- Christopher Smith

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