JEFFERSON, Ohio (AP) — A husband and wife accused of making three of their adopted children virtual prisoners inside their home pleaded not guilty Wednesday in a case that began after prosecutors say two girls crashed the family van while trying to make their escape.
The 58-year-old adopted father is charged with sexually abusing the two girls, now ages 17 and 14. He and his 64-year-old wife are both charged with kidnapping, felonious assault and endangering children in Ashtabula County, east of Cleveland.
The Associated Press is not naming the suspects to avoid identifying the girls. County Prosecutor Nicholas Iarocci said the couple also abused and neglected an adopted son, now 21, who is mentally disabled.
Iarocci said Wednesday that the couple "repeatedly and harshly" beat the girls and older son with a paddle that eventually became stained with blood. The three victims were given little to eat and were malnourished, Iarocci said.
He called living conditions inside the home "deplorable."
The victims were typically allowed out of their rooms for two hours a day for school lessons and to use the bathroom, Iarocci said. They were not allowed to socialize with other children in recent years, he said.
Iarocci could not explain why a younger adopted son, now 13, was not abused.
Indictments allege the abuse occurred over a two-year period starting in September 2011. The investigation began after the two girls escaped from their shared bedroom in August 2013, sped away in the van and got into an accident, Iarocci said.
The girls were cited in juvenile court, which led them to tell a probation officer about the abuse, Iarocci said. The three children and the man were removed from the home and placed in foster care a month after the crash.
The couple adopted the four children about 11 years ago. The abuse began after two teenage boys who also lived there left the home after turning 18, Iarocci said.
The abuse inflicted psychological damage on the girls, but they and their older adopted brother have thrived in foster care, Iarocci said.
"They're almost different children," he said, adding that the girls are being adopted by another family.
An attorney for the husband declined to comment on Wednesday. The wife is expected to be assigned an attorney in the next few days. Each are being held on $50,000 bail.