A California jury convicted a Hesperia couple Wednesday of 10 felony child abuse charges, including two counts of torture.
The Daily Press of Victorville reports 30-year-old Erik Austin Flores and his girlfriend, Mariah Rita Sugg, 22, could face life in prison for starving and abusing three children. The children are Flores' from a previous relationship.
Flores and Sugg were each convicted of three counts of willful cruelty to a child and two counts of torture.
Authorities became aware of a potential problem after social workers removed the children, ages 4, 6 and 7, from the home in June.
A news release from the San Bernardino County District Attorney’s Office indicated employees at the Marinello School of Beauty in Victorville tipped authorities off to the potential abuse after the couple brought the kids to the school that month.
Employees at the beauty school told authorities the children looked like “concentration camp” survivors and “zombies,” according to KTLA News.
The children were taken from the home and placed in the care of Loma Linda University Medical Center.
Police arrested Flores and Sugg in August after they determined the couple was responsible for the condition of the children.
Dr. Mark Massi, a forensic pediatrician at the medical center testified at the trial. He said the children suffered severely because of starvation.
Massi said the 6-year-old boy and his 4-year-old sister both suffered from psychosocial dwarfism, a condition described as “a permanent loss of height as a result of starvation.”
The 4-year-old girl was close to death when she was admitted to the hospital, Massi testified. He said she could barely talk and was not toilet trained.
The 7-year-old son was reportedly not starved as badly because he received a breakfast and lunch at school.
But District Attorney David Foy told the jury the 7-year-old was still tortured. Foy argued that Sugg forced the boy to do push-ups and run in place for hours. If he showed signs of slowing down she would hit him in the head with a belt, Foy said.
According to Foy, the boy had told authorities he was forced to exercise and do chores all day without taking any breaks. He also said he was only given very small portions of food while at home, Foy said.
The district attorney said he was pleased with the jury’s decision.
“It’s wonderful that the jury cared so much about doing justice for these children,” Foy said. “It was a very gruesome case but the challenge was to prove both defendants acted with a criminal intent.”
A judge will sentence the couple Jan. 8. They face anywhere from 20 years to life in prison.