On Nov. 16, a man from Anderson, Indiana, was given a 28-year prison sentence for neglecting four children.
Stephen Auker, 38, pleaded guilty on Nov. 2 to child neglect charges of twins who were 2 1/2 years old, the Indianapolis Star reported. Two other children, now aged 6 and 7, were also in his care.
The twins were malnourished and could not walk, talk or eat with utensils when they were taken into custody in June, according to police records obtained by the Star. Doctors later determined they were suffering from extreme malnutrition, as well as physical, mental and developmental delays.
Auker was arrested at that time after a relative complained to authorities about the condition of the children.
Although the health of the two older children was deteriorating quickly, it was not as serious as the case with the toddlers.
Police said the four children appeared to have been living in a 16-square-foot room covered in animal feces, The Herald Bulletin reports.
In an affidavit obtained by the Bulletin, detective John Needler warned that had the twins continued to live in those conditions, “they could only have lived months ... not years, and would have likely died of malnutrition.”
“Looking at the pictures they look like infants and not 2 1/2-year-old children,” Judge David Happe said before he pronounced the sentence, according to the Bulletin. “It’s hard to comprehend.”
Jennifer Haley, the Maddison County deputy prosecutor who took the case, agreed.
“This was one of the most atrocious cases I’ve ever seen,” Haley said, according to the Star. “I’ve had a lot of dead bodies. This was worse.”
The twins weighed just 16 and 17 pounds each when they were taken to hospital, approximately half the average weight of a 30-month-old child.
Auker was reportedly dealing with mental health issues and became overwhelmed with the number of children in his care.
“I honestly don’t know what happened,” Auker told Happe in court, according to the Bulletin. “At one time I had four kids living with me. I hope to become useful to my kids.”
Happe stressed that the neglect extended over a long period of time, and Auker had failed to reach out for assistance.
Auker’s attorney, Jimmy McDole, did not object to the sentence.
“When you compare the sentence in terms of what the children seemed to face, I can see how people would think that’s fair, or even on the light side,” McDole said. “My take is it was really just a bad combination of a lot of problems.”
Kimberly Robinson, the twins’ mother, also faces child neglect charges. Her trial is pending.
Auker will serve 20 years behind bars, after which he will be eligible for eight years on parole.