MADISON, Wis. (AP) – A Wisconsin father convicted of abuse for starving his teenage daughter down to 68 pounds was sentenced Wednesday to five years in prison.
Before being sentenced by Dane County Circuit Judge Julie Genovese, the 42-year-old man read a statement insisting his daughter suffered from severe emotional and behavioral problems that he couldn’t handle, that his job as a trucker kept him away from home and that he didn’t notice how thin she had become.
“There was no master plan against my daughter,” the man said, his voice breaking at times. “I was bailing water from a sinking boat with my bare hands.”
The case came to light in February 2012 when the girl, then 15, ran away from her family’s Madison home and was picked up by a passing motorist. The girl told investigators she had spent most of the previous five years confined to the home’s basement and was denied food.
Genovese said it was clear the girl had problems and that everyone who encountered her failed her. But, she told the father, “it’s your turn to accept your part in this.”
“What I think you did was put your head in the sand. It’s your job as a dad to see it and you didn’t. Really, the buck stops with you,” the judge said.
The girl also told investigators that her stepmother beat her, her stepbrother repeatedly forced her to perform oral sex on him and she was forced to eat her feces and drink her own urine.
“They made me feel like I was dehumanized a lot,” the girl said in a letter to Genovese. “It’s all thanks to my stupid dad and stepmom for not giving me an education and keeping me locked up for most of my life and making me feel like I was in a scary spot in my life.”
The Associated Press generally doesn’t name potential sexual assault victims and isn’t naming anyone in the family to avoid identifying the girl.
Genovese sentenced the stepmother to five years in prison this summer after the woman pleaded no contest to reckless endangerment and causing mental harm to a child. The stepbrother is set to stand trial on sexual assault charges next month.
The father went through two trials. Jurors in March deadlocked on some charges, leading to a second proceeding in November. In all, he was convicted of child neglect, child abuse, reckless endangerment and causing mental harm to a child, all felonies. He was acquitted of false imprisonment and misdemeanor neglect.
During his November trial, the man testified he believed the girl’s stepfather sexually assaulted her in Texas. After the father brought the girl to live with him in Wisconsin, she refused to eat and threatened to kill the family in their sleep, he said.
A psychologist suggested the girl live on a different level than the rest of the family, he testified, but he denied locking her in the basement. Social workers made several visits to the home, but he couldn’t follow up on her care because he was always on the road. He said social workers should have removed her from the home.
The man had faced up to 28 years in prison going into Wednesday’s sentencing. District Attorney Ismael Ozanne asked Genovese to give the man 10 years behind bars, saying he and his wife kept the girl isolated because they didn’t want her to tell anyone she was being abused.
“The course of conduct would have ended in (the girl’s) death but for her courage to run away,” Ozanne said. Asked after the sentencing if he agreed with five years, he simply said he respected Genovese’s decision.
The man’s attorney, Jessa Nicholson, countered he deserved probation. He already has lost his family and his job, his wife is in prison and his reputation has been destroyed, she said.
“Apparently we are still a society that favors punishment,” she told reporters after the hearing.
Genovese said the man deserved the same sentence as his wife. Together they stole five years of the girl’s life, the judge said.