A woman in Charlotte, North Carolina, has pleaded guilty to starving her children and was sentenced to five years imprisonment on Dec. 7.
Ronika Bell, 29, and Deron Cuthbertson Jr., 34, were originally charged with felony child abuse in November 2014, according to WSCO TV. The charges came after Ronika dropped her four children off to live with their father, her estranged husband Joshua Bell. Joshua, who lives in Pensacola, Florida, immediately noticed that his children looked emaciated and abused.
“Kids were skin and bones,” Joshua told WSCO TV at the time. “You could see all their clothes hanging off of them, faces sunk in. My youngest, he had no complexion at all. He was gray."
That was the first time Joshua had seen his kids in two years, and when he attempted to give his kids something to eat, they reportedly threw it up.
"Their body just wasn't used to food anymore," he said.
The children were ages 6, 8, 9, and 10 at the time.
A doctor at a nearby hospital confirmed that all four of the children had suffered malnutrition.
Investigators who obtained a warrant to search the house were told by one of Ronika's sons that there was a lot of food inside, WSCO reported in a recent story. The house contained refrigerators, cupboards and freezers "full of cans of vegetables, beans, snacks, Pop-Tarts, crackers, cookies, as well as cans of Manwich," according to the warrant.
The meals that were provided to the children, however, consisted of cereal and water, and the kids were reportedly forced to stay inside one room in the house, where they had no access to food. If they asked for food, they were beaten.
Police described all of the children as being starved, beaten and emotionally destroyed by Ronika and Cuthbertson.
Ronika was reportedly tearful and apologetic during her court hearing on Dec. 7, and she accepted responsibility for what she did to her children.
"I thought the plea agreement was a just result to honor what happened to the victims as well as save them from the experience of the trial," Assistant District Attorney Terra Varnes said.
"Especially for younger children, the courtroom is big," she added. "It can make them feel (scared) and it can make them feel sad just to go through that stress."
Cuthbertson also pleaded guilty to four counts of misdemeanor child abuse, but he can earn the chance to have the charges dismissed if he completes 18 months of probation.
The children are reportedly in their father's care.