On Tuesday morning, a jury of seven women and five men began the process of determining whether Kim Maurer is criminally responsible for the May 2020 death of her 12-year-old stepson, Maxwell Schollenberger.
The trial before Lebanon County Judge Bradford Charles is expected to last two weeks.
Police responding to 911 calls found young Max naked and dead in his bed in a dark, barren, feces-covered and locked bedroom in the Annville home owned by Maurer and the boy’s father, Scott Schollenberger.
Prosecutors allege that Max was virtually cut off from human contact and deprived of food and medical care before his death.
The boy weighed 47 1/2 pounds at the time of death, only 13 pounds heavier than recorded in medical records created when he was 3 years old.
Scott Schollenberger pled guilty to first-degree murder in February and has been sentenced to life in prison.
Maurer is charged with first- and third-degree murder, endangering the welfare of a minor, and criminal conspiracy with Scott Schollenberger resulting in Max’s death.
The jury, along with four alternate jurors, was selected on Monday from a pool of over 100 Lebanon County residents.
After preliminary instructions from the judge, the trial began with opening statements from prosecution and defense attorneys, who painted widely different pictures of what they expect the evidence will show.
Montgomery County-based special prosecutor Edward McCann appeared to be trying to divert attention from Scott Schollenberger’s admission of guilt and focus responsibility on Maurer.
McCann described Scott Schollenberger as a “good dad” before he met Maurer.
“This defendant [Maurer] was the architect of isolating Max,” McCann said, pointing toward the defense table. “Max’s life’s downward trajectory started when he met her.”
Quoting from Maurer’s Facebook posts and text messages, McCann portrayed Maurer as someone who mocked Scott Schollenberger for being too easy on Max. “Scott babies him, he should toughen up,” Maurer is alleged to have written.
While Max was locked away from the outside world, McCann said that Maurer, Scott Shollenberger, and their other children, who lived in the same home, enjoyed a clean, comfortable, well-fed life and, unlike Max, were enrolled in school.
“The life of a happy child was just on the other side of that locked door,” McCann told the jurors.
Court-appointed defense lawyer Andrew Race opened by telling the jury that Maurer was largely not contesting the squalid conditions that Max died under, and that she bore responsibility for the awful state of his health and living conditions at the time of his death.
But, Race painted a picture of an overbearing and controlling man who intimidated and emotionally abused Maurer, especially after he lost his job at the start of the COVID pandemic. Race said that Scott Schollenberger admitted to police that “I took over” after he became unemployed.
Race maintained that Maurer never intended to cause the boy’s death, and therefore was not guilty of murder in any degree.
And, the attorney suggested, Maurer did not have the legal authority to authorize medical treatment for Max or to enroll him in school because Scott, as the natural father, had a court order giving him custody rights.
Finally, Race said, the immediate cause of Max’s death was a blow to the head administered by his father.
“Scott Shollenberger killed his son,” Race said. “He couldn’t take it. He couldn’t handle it any more. He lost control.”
Prosecution begins presenting evidence
The Commonwealth began presenting its case immediately after opening statements.
Responding to often repetitive questioning from District Attorney Pier Hess Graf, Lebanon County Detective Sergeant Todd Hirsch meticulously described what was found in a search of the two-story house just off the square in Annville.
Using photos and diagrams displayed on screens throughout the courtroom, Hirsch described the layout of the house and the unlit bedroom where the boy’s naked body was found on a feces-covered bed. The windows, he said, were covered with taped-tight curtains and louvered doors that blocked light from the outside.
The room’s door was locked from the outside with three eye-and-hook locks.
Hirsch also presented a series of photos showing abundant food throughout the house that he said was available to Maurer, Scott Shollenberger, and their other children residing in the house while Max was showing signs of malnutrition.
Annville police officer Jason Cleck, the first officer on the scene, also described what he saw when entering the house, largely repeating Hirsch’s description.
Both officers recounted their interviews of Maurer on the day the boy’s body was discovered.
According to Cleck, who interviewed Maurer first, she told him that Scott Schollenberger was the first to find his son’s body. “He texted me to say his son was dead in his room,” Cleck said Maurer initially told him. “She never told me ‘I found Maxwell,'” he testified.
Her recollection changed later that day, according to Hirsch, when he conducted a second interview. According to Hirsch, Maurer told him first that “we found Max,” then “I found Max.”
The prosecution also called forensic pathologist Dr. Michael Johnson, who performed an autopsy on Max.
He stated that the cause of death was “blunt force head trauma complicating starvation and malnutrition.” The manner of death, in his opinion, was homicide.
Johnson took the jury through a series of photos of the exterior of Max’s emaciated body and of his exposed brain, which showed clear evidence of bleeding.
The brain injury, in Johnson’s opinion, was caused by “blunt force” blows to the head, which were both “recent” and “older.” But, he added, a “significant blow to the head” occurred around the time of death.
Johnson also discussed the signs of malnutrition and starvation that he found, describing them as “chronic.”
The boy’s body weighed 47 1/2 pounds and was 50 inches long. Based on data reported for other males of the same age, Johnson said he would have expected Max to weigh 89 pounds and be 58 inches tall.
Several internal organs were abnormally small, also an indicator of malnutrition, the pathologist said.
Johnson described finding “osteopenia,” a deterioration of the bones that is usually found in elderly patients, and poorly developed bones that suggested to him that Max had not regularly put weight on those bones as he was growing.
“Max was underweight, and drastically so,” Johnson said. He described Max’s overall wasting as “chronic,” but under cross-examination by Race could not say for how long Max was suffering from the condition or when it began.
“It didn’t happen overnight,” Johnson said. “It could have been weeks, months, maybe longer.”
Testimony was expected to continue Wednesday morning, and Hess Graf said she expected to call several of Max’s family members to the stand.
Questions about this story? Suggestions for a future LebTown article? Reach our newsroom using this contact form and we’ll do our best to get back to you.
Do you want to see more from LebTown?
Support local news. Cancel anytime.
Already a member? Login here
Free news isn’t cheap. If you value the journalism LebTown provides to the community, then help us make it sustainable by becoming a champion of local news. You can unlock additional coverage for the community by supporting our work with a one-time contribution, or joining as a monthly or annual member. You can cancel anytime.