A US mother was sentenced to 20 years in prison Thursday for keeping her 17-year-old adopted son in cage for seven years.
Brenda Sullivan pleaded guilty in January to three counts of aggravated child abuse. Prosecutors agreed to drop lesser child neglect charges.
The teen weighed 49 pounds when child welfare workers found him in 2005 in what appeared to be a cage. Sullivan told a judge at the time that Ohio authorities told her to keep the boy, who had severe medical and emotional problems, in a crib.
"There's only one conclusion when you look at the medical evidence in this case, and that is that she literally starved him," prosecutor Julie Schlax said, news agency AP reports.
Two other children, 13-year-old twins the Sullivans adopted as infants, both testified they were kept in similar cages.
Each described to the court how they were always hungry and denied food. They said they were forced to sleep in a crib that was converted into a cage, news4jax.com reports.
One of the children, a young girl, described how Sullivan used to duct-tape her every night:
Prosecutor: Who put you to bed?
Daughter: My mom.
Prosecutor: And how would you get into your bed?
Daughter: They put me in bed because I would be duct-taped.
Prosecutor: Tell us about that. How would you be duct-taped?
Daughter: Head to my feet. My arms right here and to my feet.
Prosecutor: Do you know why you were duct-taped?
Prosecutor: Do you know how often you were duct taped?
Daughter: Every day.
Prosecutor: Would you sometimes be awake when you were in your bed cage?
A caseworker told the court that the girl told her Sullivan would bite her, and the employee said the child had bite marks.
"The children that testified here today want to see who they still call Mom. They don't understand why they're never going to be able to talk to her, and it's a tragic situation," Schelx said.
The lawyer appointed by the state to oversee Sullivan's children told the judge this is the worst case of abuse she has ever seen.
"They will never live a normal life. They will never live a life free from fear. They will never cease to be haunted by the memories of what was done to them," said guardian Janet Wilkerson.
Prosecutors said the teen has made remarkable strides since being removed from Sullivan's home.
A state witness took the stand at the sentencing hearing and called the incident the worst case of child abuse she's ever seen.
A police report said the boy was starving and suffered psychosocial dwarfism -- a lack of physical and emotional growth caused by abuse. Authorities also say he was forced to wear a diaper.
Julie Schlax said Sullivan constructed a wood lid to put on top of a Pedia-Crib and she claimed Sullivan would lock her son inside.
Prosecutors said Sullivan's adopted son weighed 49 pounds when he moved in with her at age 7. In 2005, 10 years later, they said he weighed less than 49 pounds.
Since her arrest, Sullivan has insisted a doctor prescribed the Pedia-Crib to keep what she called her unruly son under control.
That doctor took the stand on Friday and told the court the crib was recommended, but he said that was only for at night, for short periods of time when her son was a child. The doctor also said the crib never should have a homemade lid on it or been used for a teenager.
Sullivan's husband was also arrested, but died in January 2007 while awaiting trial.
Sullivan's lawyer, Charles Fletcher, said he didn't think prison was the right option because she does not pose a threat to society. He said they would appeal the sentence.