Witness: Problems started in Russia

The Express Times, PA
April 29 2004

Witness: Problems started in Russia
Adopted boy suffered from mental issues, psychologist says.

By BILL BRAY
The Express-Times

FLEMINGTON — A Russian-born psychologist Wednesday described Viktor
Matthey as a severely mentally disabled boy with problems rooted in
his mother’s alcoholism — problems that manifested themselves until
his death at age 7.

Viktor died of heart failure 10 months after he was adopted by Robert
and Brenda Matthey of Union Township.

Anait Azarian, a child psychologist who specializes in post-traumatic
stress disorder, said Viktor Matthey likely suffered from numerous
mental problems including fetal alcohol effect that was brought on by
his biological mother’s heavy drinking during pregnancy.

Azarian, who grew up in the Soviet Union and once ran a clinic for
children suffering from post-traumatic stress associated with
earthquakes in Armenia and the Chernobyl nuclear accident, said
Viktor’s early life of neglect and abuse saddled him with problems
that could not be cured by a good home and loving parents.

“He was a very complex child with lots of problems,” said Azarian, a
defense witness.

The Mattheys are on trial in Superior Court in Hunterdon County for
manslaughter, aggravated manslaughter, endangering the welfare of a
child and witness tampering in connection with Viktor’s death. He
died Oct. 31, 2000, in a New Brunswick, N.J., hospital three days
after he was rushed to Hunterdon Medical Center.

The defense could rest its case today.

Prosecutors allege the Mattheys abused Viktor by using excessive
corporal punishment such as hitting him with a bat and a whip,
forcing him to eat uncooked beans, taping his mouth shut and making
him sleep in an unheated basement pump room.

The prosecution contends Viktor’s exposure to the cold inside the
pump room before he died led to hypothermia and eventual heart
failure. Viktor had a body temperature of 83 degrees when he arrived
Oct. 29, 2000, at Hunterdon Medical Center.

The defense claims the abuse and neglect Viktor endured in Russia
caused him to suffer from a nutritional disorder that prevented his
body from absorbing proteins and that eventually led to hypothermia
and heart failure. The defense also claims Viktor’s mental problems
resulted in self-mutilating behavior such as picking at his skin
until it bled and throwing himself into walls or down a short flight
of stairs in the Matthey home.

During her testimony Wednesday, Azarian said Viktor’s mother drank
almost every day for the two years prior to his birth in 1993. Viktor
showed several signs of fetal alcohol effect such as small teeth,
thin hair, a big head, developmental delays and speech problems,
Azarian said.

When Viktor was born, his parents — both alcoholics, according to
Azarian — paid no attention to him.

“She was giving birth only for income,” Azarian said of the boy’s
natural mother. Viktor’s parents received food aid based on the
number of children they had and in turn used the money to buy vodka.
Their lack of love and attention was the first in a chain of abuses
that led Viktor to also develop reactive attachment disorder and
post-traumatic stress disorder, Azarian said.

“They never built a fundamental base of trust,” Azarian said of
children like Viktor.

His lack of trust spurred Viktor to want to be in control at all
times.

“They want to be in control; they need to know what’s going on,”
Azarian said of children such as Viktor.

Viktor’s bed-wetting and habit of soiling himself were ways to show
he was in control, Azarian said. His lack of sleep was directly
related to his need to know what was going on around him at all
times, Azarian said.

“These children can be awake for days and days at a time,” Azarian
said. Robert and Brenda Matthey testified earlier that they gave
Viktor a sedative the night before his collapse after he failed to
sleep for several days.

Under cross-examination, Azarian said fetal alcohol effect,
post-traumatic stress disorder and reactive attachment disorder are
not fatal problems. Azarian said the Mattheys should have taken
Viktor to a medical professional for care.

Under questioning by Assistant Prosecutor Harvey Lester, Azarian
acknowledged the Mattheys agreed to adopt a mentally or physically
abused child or a child that suffered abuse. Azarian also agreed the
Mattheys’ alleged abuse of Viktor could have contributed to his
mental problems.

Azarian said she was amazed by how quickly Viktor learned English and
said he was obviously a bright boy. Lester suggested that Viktor’s
ability to learn English is contrary to Azarian’s claim he had fetal
alcohol effect.

The jury Wednesday also heard a tape of the 911 call made by Brenda
Matthey on Oct. 28, 2000.

Matthey, who sounded worried and upset, was heard taking
cardiopulmonary resuscitation instructions from a 911 operator and
pleading with Viktor not to die.

“Oh my God, come on (Viktor), come on,” Matthey is heard saying in
the background on the tape as she tried to give the boy rescue
breathing. Within minutes of her call, the first rescue workers
arrived and took over CPR. Viktor, who had stopped breathing and had
no pulse, was resuscitated at Hunterdon Medical Center 80 minutes
later.

“Oh, he’s so lifeless, please,” Matthey said to the operator as she
unsuccessfully attempted to get Viktor to breathe. Near the end of
the tape, Matthey sounds like she begins to cry, prompting the
operator to encourage her to continue.

“You are doing everything that anybody could possibly do for him
right now,” the operator said. “Just do what you’re doing. So you’re,
you’re doing great, OK,” the operator said.

Testimony will continue today with Boris Skurkovich, a pediatrician.

Reporter Bill Bray can be reached at 908-475-1596 or by e-mail at
[email protected]