Franke, Hildebrandt receive same sentence for child abuse charges

Posted at 6:39 AM, Feb 20, 2024
and last updated 2024-02-20 23:44:08-05

ST. GEORGE, Utah — Former internet sensations Ruby Franke and Jodi Hildebrandt were sentenced Tuesday in Washington County after both pleading guilty to several counts of child abuse in 2023.

Franke appeared before the judge first and received four 1-15-year terms in prison, one for each of the four counts of child abuse to which she pleaded guilty in December. She will serve each consecutively, as determined by her plea agreement.

VIDEO: Watch ENTIRE Ruby Franke sentencing

FULL HEARING: Ruby Franke receives prison time, tearfully apologizes during sentencing

Hildebrandt received the same sentence as Franke, four 1-15 year terms in prison to be served consecutively for each of the four counts of child abuse to which she pleaded guilty.

Although the sentences total up to a far greater amount, state law says the maximum time either woman could serve in prison is 30 years.

During Franke's appearance, LaMar Winward, her lawyer, as well as a tearful Franke delivered statements to the judge and courtroom.

Winward said his client has expressed remorse since being in custody and was indoctrinated.

"Ruby Franke has become a serious student in her own actions," he said in part. "Ruby Franke is a delightful, respectful and responsible person."

Then, Franke delivered a prepared statement, crying as she read.

"My charges are just, they offer safety to my family, accountability to the public and they did show mercy to me."

She expressed sorrow to her family, including her husband, children, parents and siblings.

“My willingness to sacrifice all for you was warped into something ugly," she said. "How terrifying this must have been for you. I will never stop crying for hurting your tender souls. You are so precious to me. I’m sorry.”

Franke additionally thanked detectives, local law enforcement and medical professionals for their work since her arrest.

"The moment she handcuffed me was the moment I gained my freedom," she said.

Shortly after Franke's sentencing, Hildebrandt appeared before the judge to be sentenced.

VIDEO: Watch ENTIRE Jodi Hildebrandt sentencing

FULL Jodi Hildebrandt sentencing

The prosecution called Hildebrandt a "risk to the community" and said she had shown no remorse for her actions.

Hildebrandt and her lawyer, Douglas Terry also delivered statements during the hearing.

"My experience with Ms. Hildebrandt is she is not the person she has been portrayed to be," Terry said, claiming his client showed accountability when entering into the plea agreement.

Hildebrandt then delivered short remarks, with her lawyer clarifying afterwards that his client recognizes her and Franke's actions harmed the children.

"I sincerely love these children," Hildebrandt said tearfully. "I desire for them to heal physically and emotionally."

The judge remarked that due to Hildebrandt's specialized training as a therapist, her conduct was especially harmful.

"Your conduct in this case was disastrous for the children," the judge said in part. "In this case, you terrorized children and the results have been tragic."

Washington County District Attorney Eric Clarke said he believed Hildebrandt should serve more time in prison.

"Ms. Hildebrandt just has not expressed any remorse and continues to justify her perspective of things," Clarke said. "And to the degree that in her mind it’s clear here that the perpetrator is the devil and the children. And she is a victim to the devil’s grander causes."

Clarke additionally said the case was one of the worst instances of child abuse he had ever seen.

"At the end of the day, this is a case about religious extremism," he explained "And I think that Ms. Franke’s statement kind of got into that. These guys went down a rabbit hole and Ms. Hildebrandt believed that she was regularly talking to God and Ms. Franke was following the direction that she was getting from Ms. Hildebrandt."

"I hope that Jodi serves more time than that and I hope that she isn’t out of prison until everybody is completely confident that she’s no longer a risk," Clarke said.

Prison time was inevitable for Franke and Hildebrandt, who both pleaded guilty to four counts of aggravated child abuse in their respective plea deals, admitting to abuse of Franke's two youngest children.

When she pleaded guilty, Franke called the abuse her children faced, "acts of love."

Franke admitted to isolating her son, binding his hands and feet with rope and forcing him to do physical labor in the sun for hours without food and water as part of the agreement.

Franke's plea deal stipulated she would serve all four sentences consecutively. Each of the counts brings a prison sentence between 1-15 years; however, those terms are flexible and up to the Utah Board of Pardons and Parole.

A few days later, Hildebrandt also entered a guilty plea, agreeing to serve a prison sentence as part of the deal.

As part of her plea agreement, Hildebrandt admitted to coercing Franke's 9-year-old daughter to jump into a cactus multiple times and helping Franke physically and mentally torture her youngest son.

“The plea bargain worked out in the case includes the defendants agreeing to serve some prison time and agreeing that those prison sentences will be served consecutively, which means one after the other," remarked Steve Burton, the director of the Utah Defense Attorney Association.

Though Burton isn't involved in this specific case, he has extensive knowledge of similar situations and weighed in on what we may see in court on Tuesday.

“They're deciding to not put the children through what could be a very ugly trial and they're limiting their punishment to four charges instead of the six charges," he explained.

After the sentencing, we still won't know for sure how much prison time both women will serve as the exact amount of time is most up to the Board of Pardons and Parole in Utah.

The board will look at sentencing guidelines, criminal history and behavior in prison to determine the exact length of time.

“I think the judge will be trying to find out if there's information in the sentencing that either side will present that will make it more or less likely that they will serve the amount of time suggested by the guidelines once they go to prison or whether or not that time would be increased or decreased depending on several factors," Burton explained.

Franke was an internet star through her family's YouTube channel, "8 passengers." The social media platform terminated her channels in the aftermath of her abuse allegations.

Franke and Hildebrandt were arrested in August after one of Franke's children escaped Hildebrandt's home knocked on the door of a neighbor in Ivins and asked for food and water. The neighbor noticed duct tape on the child's ankles and wrists and called police, according to court documents.

READ: Franke child says 'cayenne pepper and honey' was used to treat wounds, search warrant states

Police later found one of Franke's daughters emaciated inside Hildebrandt's home.

Victims, as well as both defendants, are given the right to speak before each sentencing.

Franke and Hildebrandt have gotten Utahns talking about what child abuse is and who are in positions of trust for our children.

“I think it is easy to demonize folks in these situations and say, ‘Well, I would never do that,’ or, ‘I would never be like that,’” said Laurieannn Thorpe, the executive director of Prevent Child Abuse Utah. “I hope that a conversation that's happening is, ‘Well, what do I need to be able to remain a safe parent for my child?’”

On the hill, lawmakers are considering bills that would regulate “Life coaches” like Ruby Franke.

“Certainly the scrutiny is on this because of this case, and because of Ruby Franke, that a lot of people, it makes them uneasy to think that someone could be out here practicing a way that is not their scope of practice,” said Melanie Hall, the communications director for the Utah Department of Commerce.

Hall added that in Utah, life coaches aren’t required to have a license.

“The concerning part is someone like Ruby Franke, in years, could get certified again, possibly through a different organization,” she said.

On the other hand, Hildebrandt was a licensed counselor, and after surrendering her license, Hall says it’s likely she won’t be able to practice ever again.

“We want them being productive, contributing members of society, and that includes economically, being in the workplace, but in a case like this, it's hard to say,” she said. “The allegations are pretty heinous.”