By Jon Hurdle
DILLSBURG, Pennsylvania (Reuters) - The American parents of an adopted Russian boy will stand trial on charges that they beat and starved him to death, a judge ruled on Thursday.
Michael and Nanette Craver were charged with criminal homicide and child endangerment after their 7-year-old son, Nathaniel, died in August 2009 from multiple injuries, and in an emaciated state.
Magistrate Judge Richard Thomas ruled at a preliminary hearing that local Pennsylvania prosecutors had presented enough evidence to put the Cravers on trial, and he set a date to begin in September.
Russia halted adoptions to the United States this month after a Tennessee woman sent her 7-year-old adopted Russian son back to Moscow alone, with a note in his pocket saying that he was no longer wanted because he was violent and threatened to burn down the family home.
Sergey Logachev, senior consul at the Russian Consulate General in New York who attended Thursday's hearing, said Russian officials are holding talks with their American counterparts to seek tighter controls over U.S. adoptions after a string of abuse cases among Russian children adopted by Americans.
"It's very important to provide security for adopted children, and to provide control over their living conditions," Logachev told Reuters after the hearing.
In Washington, the U.S. State Department said Russia and the United States were meeting to craft a new deal that would govern adoptions of Russian children by American families.
'LOOKED LIKE HE WAS STARVED'
Nathaniel Craver, who was adopted in 2003 at age 18 months, had about 80 injuries to his head and other parts of his body and had negligible body fat when he died in a Pennsylvania hospital, an autopsy found.
Dr. Wayne Ross, a forensic pathologist who conducted the autopsy, told the hearing that Nathaniel's body had just one millimeter of subcutaneous fat, no muscle tone and a prominent rib cage.
"He looked like he was starved to me," Ross said, as Michael Craver, 45, and Nanette Craver, 55, both wearing orange prison jumpsuits, listened from the defense bench. Nathaniel's twin sister, also adopted from a Russian orphanage, has been taken into foster care.
The boy's injuries included a severely swollen face, "cauliflower" ears that are often seen in wrestlers and shoulder and hip joints that suggested his limbs had been pulled out from their sockets, Ross said.
Many of the injuries appeared to be the result of "severe blunt force trauma," Ross said.
Nathaniel died from complications of traumatic brain injury and "severe failure to thrive" as a result of starvation, the coroner's report said.
Michael Craver's aunt, Sandra Atkins, a witness for the prosecution, testified she visited the family about two weeks before Nathaniel died and found he had a swollen cheek, a scar on the back of his head and eyes that were "almost closed."
Atkins said Michael Craver told her Nathaniel's injuries were self-inflicted.
"Michael just said he fell," she told the court. "He said he just throws himself down and falls and rubs his eyes."
If found guilty of first-degree murder, the Cravers face life in prison without parole or the death penalty, prosecutors said. Prosecutors are still deciding whether to seek the death penalty.
(Editing by Ellen Wulfhorst and Xavier Briand)