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Child endangerment case results in hung jury

The jury did not come to a consensus in a child endangerment trial Wednesday, leaving the District Attorney’s office to decide between dismissing charges, filing for retrial or offering a plea deal.

Nicole R. Engler-Harper, 40, remains charged with two counts reckless endangerment of another person for allegedly locking a 5- and 3-year-old in their rooms in squalid conditions at 731 Washington Blvd in 2017.

Donald D. Kiper Jr., who testified in the case, was in a relationship with Engler-Harper at the time and acknowledged he was aware of the conditions.

Kiper was found guilty of endangering the welfare of children and sentenced to six to 23.5 months in county prison and 75 hours of community service.

Engler-Harper is mother to the younger child but not the 5-year-old, whose father is Kiper.

Lycoming County currently has custody of both children, who remain in foster care, and the parents’ rights have been terminated.

In conducting a codes inspection of Kiper and Engler-Harper’s rental home on Sept. 27, 2017, Dean Severson said he came to the home to find Engler-Harper doing yard work.

After making his rounds around the house, he said he inspected the first floor where things seemed normal.

However, in walking up the steps, Severson said Engler-Harper rushed past him to unlock a padlocked room.

There he found a “filthy” room with a 5-year-old boy who was laying in his underwear on a urine-stained mattress, he said.

The only other object in the room, apart from the sleeping arrangement, was a potty trainer, according to the codes inspector.

A 3-year-old boy was locked in the adjacent room, which was extremely cluttered. The child was in a play-pen with toys and there were dressers stacked on one another, which leaned towards the child.

The two Lycoming County Children and Youth caseworkers who placed the children in foster care testified, and said they could smell urine “wafting” from the rooms.

The foster parents said while the 5-year-old was excited to play, he could not write his name or recite his ABCs. Meanwhile the 3-year-old allegedly had no inclination to play and was selectively mute.

Engler-Harper testified that the older boy’s destructive tendencies and attempts to run away forced her to “teach him to be accountable.”

The smell came from the boy’s training toilet that she forgot to change and the boys were unclothed because she could only do laundry once a week with her schedule, she claimed.

The child would behave badly, which forced her to take away his privileges like playing outside or watching television.

“I was protecting him from hurting himself,” she said. “It was done because I love him.”

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