A Texas woman was sentenced to prison Friday after pleading guilty to keeping her seven adopted children locked in a bedroom and abusing them for more than a decade, causing them permanent physical and mental damage.
Paula Sinclair, 55, pleaded guilty to four first-degree felony charges of injury to a child causing serious bodily injury, a Fort Bend District Attorney’s Office news release obtained by PEOPLE states.
She and her husband, Allen Richardson, 79, were arrested in November 2016, after investigators with the Texas Department of Family Services – Child Protection Services discovered seven children locked in an upstairs bedroom during a search of their Richmond home.
During their investigation, detectives with the Fort Bend Sheriff Office learned that the seven children, who were between 13 and 17 years old at the time, had been adopted by Sinclair and her first husband when they were all toddlers.
The children were adopted in 2003 and 2004, according to KHOU. Adopted along with them was an eighth child who died in 2011 while under Sinclair and Richardson’s care, according the news release.
Doctors determined the 7-year-old died from bronchitis, according to the Houston Chronicle. Because the child’s death was ruled to be from natural causes, CPS did not launch an investigation.
Inside the bedroom where the children were kept, detectives noted a strong odor of urine and feces, pieces of carpet missing and exposed metal carpet tacks on the floor.
The toilet did not work and both bathroom and bedroom door handles had been removed and replaced with a single key deadbolt that could only be unlocked from outside, the news release states.
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The children told investigators that they had never attended school and were fed rice and beans twice a day. They revealed that they had been physically and mentally abused by Sinclair, who would use a bat, belt and wooden rod to beat them.
In addition to the beatings, Sinclair often bound the children’s hands and feet with duct tape before placing them inside the locked closet, where they would stay for long periods of time.
“The facts of this case are horrendous. The one person a child should be able to rely upon to protect him or her is the child’s mother. Paula Sinclair abused, exploited and starved her children for her own personal gain. She imprisoned them in their own home and treated them like animals,” Prosecutor Melissa Munoz said in a statement. “She deserves to spend every minute, every hour, and every day of the 35-year sentence she received in prison.”
The children suffered malnutrition and permanent, serious bodily injuries and “mental impairment” as a result of the years of abuse at the hands of Sinclair, according to the news release.
‘These Children Are Our Heroes’: Prosecutor
During court Friday, all seven children attended, and three children gave statements to Sinclair after she had been sentenced.
“These children are our heroes,” Prosecutor Terese Buess said in a statement. “They took care of one another as best as they could under absolutely unimaginable circumstances. We all have so much to learn from their amazing spirits.”
Sinclair will not be eligible for parole until she has served at least half of her sentence, according to the news release.
Sinclair’s attorney, Don Hecker, could not be reached Monday. In court on Friday, he maintained his client’s innocence, blaming Richardson.
“[Sinclair] maintains that maybe 80 percent of this or more was attributable to [Richardson],” Hecker said, according to the Houston Chronicle.
Richardson is currently behind bars facing multiple charges including aggravated kidnapping and aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, according to Fort Bend County Jail records. It is unclear whether he has entered a plea to the charges against him or if he has an attorney.