LEBANON COUNTY, Pa. (TCD) -- A mother was sentenced to up to 47 years in prison Wednesday for abusing and torturing her five adopted children.
According to a news release from the Lebanon County District Attorney’s Office, in January 2021, Stephanie Duncan drove her 11-year-old boy to Hershey Medical Center with life-threatening injuries. The medical staff determined that the child suffered abuse and hypothermia from prolonged exposure to extreme cold, the District Attorney’s Office said. He reportedly had bruises on his neck, shoulders, back, abdomen, hip, and genitals.
According to the District Attorney’s Office, Duncan did not provide a reasonable explanation for her child’s state, describing it as self-injury.
An investigation was launched, and when interviewed by authorities, the four other children "described a caste system within the family," the District Attorney’s Office said. The 11-year-old boy was allegedly treated the worst out of the five children.
The children reportedly provided graphic details of the punishments they had undergone, including denial of basic necessities like food and decent living conditions.
According to the District Attorney’s Office, Duncan and her husband, Robert Duncan, locked the 11-year-old boy in his bedroom and restricted the amount of water he drank. He reportedly did not consume any water for days at a time. According to the District Attorney’s Office, Duncan’s husband once choked the 11-year-old to point of gasping for air after catching him drinking water from the sink.
The 11-year-old boy reportedly slept in only a diaper on a cold, concrete floor. Duncan and her husband rarely let the boy leave his room or use the bathroom, so he reportedly urinated in his room. As punishment, Duncan and her husband ordered him to clean it with bleach. According to the District Attorney’s Office, the child was forced to run in place until the floor dried. If he complained about the bleach, the parents reportedly poured it on his head.
On the day of the boy’s hospitalization, Duncan reportedly discovered the boy unresponsive in his room, unable to speak or walk. She hit her son, grabbed him by his neck, and forced him into the shower, but he could not stand. According to the District Attorney’s Office, the boy’s temperature was severely low, and he couldn’t keep any food down.
The 11-year-old boy’s condition reportedly did not improve, and hours later, Duncan decided to drive him to the hospital.
In an interview, the District Attorney’s Office said the 11-year-old boy told investigators that Duncan tried to kill him. When interviewing the other four children, the District Attorney’s Office said the children told investigators that Duncan and her husband punched and strangled all four male children and smacked their 6-year-old girl in the mouth.
According to the District Attorney’s Office, even "minor misbehaviors, such as taking too long to consume water or complete a chore, resulted in horrific, violent abuse."
During an interview, the children told investigators that they were ordered to remove all light bulbs from the oldest three boys’ bedrooms, the District Attorney’s Office said. Video cameras were reportedly in every child’s bedroom so that the parents could watch everything they did.
According to the District Attorney’s Office, the children said, "If they slept in a position the Defendants deemed inappropriate, the Defendants punished them and forced them to run in place for hours. Other physical punishments were also used, such as push-ups and standing in a prone position. The cameras allowed the Defendants omnipresent abilities for their abuse."
When law enforcement investigated the rooms, hook and eye locks that the parents had installed were reportedly removed.
Additionally, Duncan and her husband reportedly received tens of thousands of dollars annually as means of taking care of the adopted children, the District Attorney’s Office said.
On February 2, 2021, Duncan and her husband were charged with aggravated assault, simple assault, tampering with or fabricating physical evidence, endangering the welfare of a child, and conspiring with one another to commit the crime.
According to the District Attorney’s Office, on Wednesday, Duncan was officially sentenced to 47 years in prison with eligibility for parole after 17 years in jail with no contact with any child.