April 12th, 2024

YouTube mom Ruby Franke apologizes at sentencing in child abuse case

By Hannah Schoenbaum, The Associated Press on February 20, 2024.

FILE - This image from video shows Ruby Franke during a hearing Monday, Dec. 18, 2023, in St. George, Utah. A Utah judge will set prison sentences Tuesday, Feb. 20, 2024, for Franke, a mother of six who gave parenting advice via a once-popular YouTube channel called “8 Passengers,” and her business partner after they each pleaded guilty to four counts of aggravated child abuse for physically and emotionally abusing Franke’s children. (Ron Chaffin/St. George News via AP, Pool, File)

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) – Ruby Franke, a Utah mother of six who gave parenting advice to millions via a once-popular a YouTube channel, shared a tearful apology to her children for physically and emotionally abusing them before a judge sentenced her Tuesday to serve up to 60 years in prison.

Franke told Judge John J. Walton that she would not argue for a shorter sentence before she stood to thank local police officers, doctors and social workers for being the “angels” who saved her children from her at a time when she says she was under the influence of her business partner, Jodi Hildebrandt. The Utah mental health counselor, who had been hired to work with Franke’s youngest son before going into business with Franke, also received a prison sentence Tuesday of up to 60 years.

“I’ll never stop crying for hurting your tender souls,” Franke said to her children, who were not present at the sentencing hearing. “My willingness to sacrifice all for you was masterfully manipulated into something very ugly. I took from you all that was soft and safe and good.”

Franke and Hildebrandt had each pleaded guilty to four counts of aggravated child abuse for trying to convince Franke’s two youngest children that they were evil, possessed and needed to be punished to repent. The women were arrested at Hildebrandt’s house in the southern Utah city of Ivins last August after Franke’s 12-year-old son escaped through a window and asked a neighbor to call the police, according to a 911 call released by the St. George Police Department.

The boy was thin, covered in wounds and had duct tape around his ankles and wrists. He told investigators that Hildebrandt had put ropes on his limbs and used cayenne pepper and honey to dress his cuts, according to a search warrant.

State prosecuting attorney Eric Clarke described the environment in which Franke and Hildebrandt had kept the kids as “a concentration camp-like setting,” a term most strongly associated with the camps established by the Nazis to starve, overwork and execute Jewish people and other minorities across Europe during the Holocaust.

While Franke has shown remorse and cooperated with attorneys, Clarke said, Hildebrandt has not and continues to place blame on the children. Hildebrandt’s attorney, Douglas Terry, said his client is not the remorseless woman she has been portrayed to be and accepts responsibility for her actions.

“I sincerely love these children. I desire for them to heal physically and emotionally,” Hildebrandt said Tuesday in court, reminding the judge that she accepted her plea deal instead of going to trial because she did not want the children to have to relive their trauma by testifying.

Hildebrandt pleaded guilty in December to four of her six counts of aggravated child abuse, and two counts were dismissed as part of her plea deal. Franke also pleaded guilty to four of her six charges and not guilty to two. Each charge carries a prison sentence of one to 15 years, which will run consecutively.

Franke and her husband, Kevin Franke, launched “8 Passengers” on YouTube in 2015 and amassed a large following as they documented their experiences raising six children. She later began working with Hildebrandt’s counseling company, ConneXions Classroom, offering parenting seminars, launching another YouTube channel and publishing content on their shared Instagram account, “Moms of Truth.”

Franke admitted in her plea deal to kicking her son while wearing boots, holding his head under water and closing off his mouth and nose with her hands. She and Hildebrandt said they also forced him into hours of physical labor in the summer heat without much food or water, causing dehydration and blistering sunburns. The boy was told that everything being done to him was an act of love, according to the plea agreements.

Hildebrandt also has admitted to coercing Franke’s youngest daughter, who was 9 at the time, to jump into a cactus multiple times and run barefoot on dirt roads until her feet blistered. The boy and girl were taken to the hospital after the arrests and placed in state custody along with two more of their siblings.

Prior to her 2023 arrest, Ruby Franke was already a divisive figure in the parent vlogging world. The Franke parents were criticized online for certain parenting decisions, including for banning their oldest son from his bedroom for seven months for pranking his younger brother. In other videos, Ruby Franke talked about refusing to take lunch to a kindergartener who forgot it at home and threatening to cut the head off a young girl’s stuffed toy to punish her for cutting things in the house.

The “8 Passengers” YouTube channel has since ended, and Kevin Franke has filed for divorce.

Both Franke and Hildebrandt have 30 days to appeal their sentences.

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