MUSKEGON, Mich. (Court TV) — A Michigan man pleaded guilty to child abuse charges in court on Thursday, days after his mother was convicted of murder. Now, the two will learn their fates on the same day.
Paul Ferguson had been charged with first-degree child abuse for the treatment of his younger brother with special needs, Timothy. Ferguson’s mother, Shanda Vander Ark, was convicted of murder and child abuse in connection with Timothy’s death on June 6, 2022.
Ferguson appeared in a Muskegon County courtroom on Thursday for a settlement conference, where he entered a guilty plea to the single count. At the hearing, prosecutors said that they would not be filing any additional charges against him, in part because of feedback they got from the jury after his mother’s trial. Citing his cooperation, prosecutors recommended Ferguson receive a sentence within sentencing guidelines.
Admitting to a pattern of disturbing abuse while testifying against his mother at her trial, Ferguson said that he had acted as the enforcer for his mother and said that at her direction he forced his younger brother to eat hot sauce, deprived him of food, and left him in ice baths for hours at a time.
During Thursday’s hearing, Ferguson answered “yes” as his attorney recounted the list of ways Ferguson and his mother tortured the victim.
Timothy, who at 15 was only 68 inches tall and 69 pounds at the time of his death, was routinely handcuffed and forced to sleep in a closet, according to Ferguson’s testimony.
One text message entered as evidence during Vander Ark’s trial was sent to her by Ferguson one month before Timothy’s eventual death of malnutrition and dehydration.
“He’s bone thin mama, I honestly think we need to actually feed him.”
Before testifying, Ferguson reached a deal with prosecutors for his testimony so that nothing he said during his mother’s trial could be used against him. In return, prosecutors said they would detail his cooperation to a sentencing judge. Ferguson expressed remorse on the stand, telling his mother’s defense attorney during cross-examination, “I suppose I did not love him enough. That’s why I’m trying to get justice.”
When she took the stand, Vander Ark pointed the finger at her son, claiming that Paul was the one who concocted the abusive discipline methods in her home.
Before accepting the plea, the judge questioned Ferguson and warned him that when he imposes a sentence, “There is no guarantee that it would be within guidelines.” Ferguson answered simply, “Yes, Your Honor.”
The judge scheduled Ferguson’s sentencing for January 29. Vander Ark’s sentencing is scheduled for the same day.