Illinois Couple Allegedly Let 6-Year-Old Boy 'Starve to Death' as Punishment

Police in Jerseyville, Illinois, have accused Michael and Georgena Roberts of withholding food from the boy as a form of punishment

Photo: Jersey County State's Attorney (2)

Authorities who charged an Illinois couple with murder say their 6-year-old son died last week of malnutrition because they allegedly withheld food to punish him, PEOPLE confirms.

The boy weighed just 17 lbs. at the time of his death, according to documents from the Jersey County, Illinois, State’s Attorney obtained by PEOPLE.

Police in Jerseyville, Illinois, said in a statement that they were called to the Jerseyville Community Hospital on Friday after the boy died.

Investigators determined that the child — who lived with three other siblings and two step-siblings — and a 7-year-old were both allegedly “deprived of food by their father and stepmother as a form of punishment,” a police statement said.

Charged in the case are Michael Roberts, the father, and stepmother Georgena Roberts, both 42, according to documents from the Jersey County State’s Attorney.

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In addition to first-degree murder, Michael and Georgena are also charged with two counts each of endangering the life and health of a child — one each for the 6-year-old and the 7-year-old.

The charging documents allege that, starting in December 2015, Michael and Georgena “knowingly and intentionally caused [the 6-year-old] to become extremely malnourished, leaving the said 6-year-old child … to starve to death.”

A pathologist cited the boy’s cause of death as “failure to thrive due to ‘extreme malnourishment,’ ” according to the police statement.

The parents are being held in the Jersey County Jail with bail set at $500,000 apiece. It could not be determined on Tuesday whether they had obtained attorneys who could comment on their behalf.

The Illinois Department of Children and Family Services took all of the remaining children into protective custody.

In January 2016, a hotline call to the state agency had reported inadequate food in the home and an investigation was begun, according to a DCFS statement, reports the Belleville News-Democrat.

“After a pediatric specialist concluded that the now-deceased child’s weight was a result of a medical condition, the investigation was closed as unfounded,” the statement said.

A call by PEOPLE to the agency was not immediately returned.

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