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Autistic Boys Caged ‘to Keep Them Safe,’ Suspect Testifies

Brand X Pictures/Thinkstock(VANCOUVER, Wash.) -- A Vancouver, Wash., man accused of imprisoning his two autistic sons in a room with a "cage-like" door testified that he'd heard on TV that it was OK to lock a child in a room for safety, and his former live-in girlfriend broke down in tears on the stand.

John Eckhart, 31, and Alayna Higdon, 27, locked up the two boys, ages 5 and 7, "to keep them safe...so they wouldn't get hurt when we weren't immediately available," Higdon told the jury on Friday, wiping her eyes.

The couple, who were arrested in April 2011, are charged with unlawful imprisonment of the two children between October 2010 and April 2011. If convicted, they could face up to three months in jail.

The room had only one child-sized race-car bed, no toys and no light, according to the prosecutions' opening statement on Monday.

The defense portrayed the couple as "naive," according to ABC Affiliate KATU.

Eckhart testified that he heard on a reality TV series, either Supernanny or Nanny 911, that it is acceptable to lock a child up if that child could otherwise hurt himself, according to The Columbian newspaper of Vancouver.

He also told jurors that he never passed eighth grade and still struggles with reading and writing, KATU reported.

Higdon said the "cage-like" door was installed less than two weeks before their arrest because the boys destroyed the room's original door by pounding it, kicking it, and beating their heads against it, according to The Columbian. They intended to put up a transparent plastic door, but it was too expensive, so they settled for metal-wire shelving.

The boys' 10-year-old brother took the stand Wednesday, telling the courtroom that he would often pass food through the metal slots because the boys were not allowed out for most of the day. Eckhart denied this.

The older autistic boy is in foster care, and the younger boy has been living with his biological mother, according to The Columbian.

Closing arguments are expected on Tuesday.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

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