National News

YouTube vlogger Ruby Franke, business partner Jodi Hildebrandt sentenced in child abuse case

todayFebruary 20, 2024


seng kui Lim / 500px /Getty Images

(ST. GEORGE, Utah) — YouTube vlogger Ruby Franke, who pleaded guilty to aggravated child abuse of two of her children, was sentenced Tuesday to four consecutive sentences of one to 15 years in prison.

The amount of time Franke spends in jail will be up to the Utah Board of Pardons and Parole.

Franke and her former business partner, Connexions Classroom founder Jodi Hildebrandt, both pleaded guilty to four counts of child abuse in Washington County 5th District Court in Utah in December.

Hildebrandt was sentenced to the same four consecutive terms of one to 15 years following Franke.

In their plea agreements, Franke and Hildebrandt admitted to inflicting or allowing another adult to inflict serious physical injuries upon Franke’s children between May and August 2023.

Before receiving her sentencing, Franke tearfully read a statement in court Tuesday.

“For the past four years, I’ve chosen to follow counsel and guidance that has led me into a dark delusion. My distorted version of reality went largely unchecked as I would isolate from anyone who challenged me,” Franke said.

“I was led to believe that this world was an evil place filled with cops who control, hospitals that injure, government agencies that brainwash, church leaders who lie and lust, husbands who refuse to protect and children who need abuse,” Franke said.

“Jodi Hildebrandt was never my business partner, nor was I ever employed by her. I have never received wages from her or connections. Jodi was employed as my son’s counselor, in 2019 and in 2020, I paid her to be my mentor,” Franke said. “It is important to me to demonstrate my remorse and regret without blame. I take full accountability for my choices, and it is my preference that I serve a prison sentence.”

The two women were arrested Aug. 30 after Franke’s 12-year-old son, who had been staying at Hildebrandt’s house, climbed out of a window, ran to a neighbor’s home and told the neighbor that he had been abused.

Hildebrandt said in a statement in court, “I sincerely love these children. I desire for them to heal emotionally. One of the reasons I did not go to trial is I did not want them to emotionally relive experiences which would have been detrimental to them.”

Franke’s son was physically tortured and “forced to do physical tasks for hours and days at a time,” per the plea agreement. He was forced to do outside labor without shoes in the summer heat, standing in direct sunlight for several days resulting in “repeated and serious sunburns with blistered and sloughing skins,” the agreement said.

The child was denied adequate water for several of the days he was required to remain in the heat and was punished when he “secretly consumed water” and was denied sufficient food, according to the agreement.

After he tried to run away, his hands and feet were “regularly bound,” often using two sets of handcuffs for his wrists and ankles, the plea agreement said, adding that at times ropes were used to tie the two sets of handcuffs together so his arms and lower legs were lifted off the ground.

The bindings resulted in injuries to the child’s wrists and ankles, with handcuffs cutting through the skin and damaging muscle and tissue, according to the plea agreement. The injuries were treated with homeopathic remedies and covered with duct tape, before the child was then bound again on top of the duct tape, according to the agreement.

Franke and another adult tried to convince the boy that he was “evil and possessed. And that he needed to willingly be obedient to avoid punishments. And that the punishments were necessary to repent,” the plea said.

Another child received similar treatment, and was forced to work outside in the heat barefoot, running on dirt roads for an extended period of time.

Two other charges were dismissed against Franke, according to the Washington County Attorney’s Office. She agreed to serve consecutive sentences as part of her plea agreement.

“Ruby Franke wants to take responsibility for the harm she has caused to her children and to her entire family. She knows that by pleading guilty and accepting the punishment, she is taking a step in the right direction to be accountable for her actions,” Franke’s attorneys said in a statement to ABC News in December.

Prosecutor Eric Clarke told reporters after the sentencing that he hopes Hildebrandt will serve more time than Franke. Clarke said it appears Franke understands that she was wrong in her abuse and has taken responsibility, but Hildebrandt has made statements in calls from jail suggesting she does not have remorse.

“At the end of the day, this is a case about religious extremism and I think that Mrs. Franke’s statement kind of got into that. These guys went down a rabbit hole and Ms. Hildebrandt believed that she was regularly talking to God and Ms. Franke was following the directions that she was getting from Ms. Hildebrandt,” prosecutor Eric Clarke told reporters.

Clarke said this case has been one of the worst child abuses cases their office has seen.

“I’m super concerned that Jodi — if she were released today — is a significant risk to gather followers,” Clarke said. “Ruby was essentially a follower of Jodi, and if she’s gathering people and then convincing them to do this kind of thing, that’s a huge risk.”

Hildebrandt’s attorney said the statement she made in court was “absolutely sincere” and that what she said on calls with people who did not believe she was guilty of child abuse is not what she currently believes.

“She entered into the plea agreement to take responsibility for her conduct in this case,” Hildebrandt’s attorney, Doug Terry, told reporters.

Franke’s attorney, LaMar Winward, told reporters she accepts the judge’s sentence.

“We feel that justice is served today and Ruby is committed to change her way of thinking and acting during her time in prison,” Franke said.

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