"She wanted me to feel dehumanized," Austin McIntosh told a Tennessee jury Tuesday in a trial against his own stepmother. Jessica Cox faces child abuse and aggravated child neglect charges after allegedly starving, beating, and abusing him and his younger brother, Justin, over a five-month period in 2013, the News Sentinel reports. Austin, now 20, described a litany of alleged abuse: being hit with a can opener, having the tip of his penis burned with a cigarette, and being forced to take ice baths and eat cockroaches, reports WBIR. Having their hands cuffed behind their backs and attached to a kitchen cabinet was routine for the brothers, then 16 and 14, Austin claimed. In a move the News Sentinel calls "creative," prosecutors brought into the courtroom the cabinets the boys were allegedly handcuffed to in their Knoxville trailer.
Early one morning in May 2013, the boys say they freed themselves from the cabinets while their father and stepmother slept and walked to Farragut High School. There they found a friend in janitor Richard Huff. "Both of their hands were swollen probably twice the size of what's normal," Huff testified Monday. "I've never seen anything like that." Although the boys begged him not to tell, Huff called police. Dad Michael McIntosh, a former cop, was also arrested; the News Sentinel reports he saw his boys as problem children, and accused Austin of harming animals and sexually abusing boys. Michael McIntosh will testify against Cox Wednesday as part of a plea deal. Cox's attorney counters that McIntosh was the abuser and that Cox was a victim as well. The brothers now live with their grandparents; Cox's three biological children were not abused. (Read more child abuse stories.)