Merlinda Avalos fed her children only a single sandwich each meal and beat them if they made noise

AvalosA Hillsboro woman will spend more than 12 years in prison after she pleaded guilty to physically and psychologically abusing three children in her care over several years.

Merlinda Avalos, 49, was sentenced March 6 to 151 months in prison. The Hillsboro woman pleaded guilty in a Washington County courtroom to six counts of first-degree criminal mistreatment.

According to Hillsboro Police, Avalos abused three children over the course of six years. The children, who are related to Avalos, lived with her after she was made their legal guardian in 2012, when the children were 4, 5 and 6 years old.

Prosecutors say the children were forced to share one room, were not allowed the use the bathroom during the night and instead were forced to urinate into a jug.

The children showered only one day a week and were forced to wear urine-soaked clothes to school, police said. If the children made any noise they would be beaten with any instrument or object within reach, prosecutors said. Avalos also used sleep deprivation as a form of punishment.

According to police, the children were not allowed to read, play outside or watch television. They were fed only one peanut butter sandwich for breakfast and another for dinner, investigators said.

Police say the abuse against the children — now ages 9, 10 and 12 — continued from 2012 to April 2018, when one of the children told a school counselor about the abuse.

Stephen Mayer, a spokesman for the Washington County District Attorney's Office, said a school counselor fought back tears as she spoke about the abuse in court. She described the children arriving to school in soiled clothing and the efforts school staff made to address the problem.

Mayer said Hillsboro School District counselors and staff worked "diligently to protect the victims and report (the) suspected abuse."

Mayer said Avalos and her husband attempted to destroy or conceal evidence after detectives confronted her about the abusive behavior. That evidence was re-collected and Mayer said it corroborated the children's accounts of what happened to them.

Avalos will pay more than $20,000 in fines to the victims, and an additional $6,000 in restitution.

After her release from prison, she will spend three years on parole and will not be allowed to have contact with any minors other than her own son.

By Geoff Pursinger
Editor, Hillsboro Tribune
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