Surbeck’s sentencing decision came nearly two weeks after a lengthy sentencing hearing in which 22-year-old Antonio Henderson spoke at length, describing how he never hurt his girlfriend’s four children while they were in his care.
But, as Surbeck reminded him, Henderson already pleaded guilty to all eight charges – four Class C felony charges of neglect of a dependent causing serious bodily injury and four Class D felony charges of battery to a victim younger than 14.
Surbeck ultimately sentenced Henderson to 20 years in prison but suspended four of those years. He also gave Henderson four years of probation as well as credit for 206 days already served in Allen County Jail while the case made its way through the legal system.
Court documents outlined the accusations against Henderson: punching and whipping the children, putting them in chokeholds until they passed out and threatening to put them in a cage with a 6-foot boa constrictor.
The children told investigators Henderson made them give one another “blanket parties”– a military-type punishment involving covering someone with a blanket while others strike them.
When police and workers with the Department of Child Services intervened for the final time in October 2011, they found the children had bruises on their faces, black “raccoon eyes” and cuts and scrapes. The youngest, who was 2 at the time, had abrasions on her back, bruises on her face and a skull fracture.
During the hearing Nov. 9, clinical psychologist Danielle Wardell told Surbeck that the three older boys, whom she interviewed when they were 8, 6, and 5, suffered from debilitating post-traumatic stress disorder and disruptive behavior disorder. Two of the children had depressive disorder and were borderline intellectually functional.
Although reluctant to say the abuse specifically caused their struggles, Wardell drew a straight line from their experiences in the home to their mental health and intellectual abilities.
“Intelligence can be impacted by abuse,” she said. “It negatively impacts the ability to concentrate so it is hard to learn. (The abuse) was quite detrimental to their development and will continue to cause difficulty.”
As she described how the children are also showing signs of having been sexually abused, an inmate handcuffed to Henderson in the jury box slid farther away in his seat and shook his head.
Prosecutors said a doctor specializing in child abuse described what the children endured as torture. For his part, Henderson admitted to not doing enough to keep the children from playing rough with one another, but accused them, largely, of lying or exaggerating about the abuse they say he inflicted.
Surbeck noticed Henderson’s apparent lack of remorse during the hearing this month.
“It has become clear over the last few minutes, you have no intention, Mr. Henderson, of accepting responsibility,” Surbeck said. “I have sat here and listened to him and all his excuses. He has little, if any, remorse for anything, except the fact that he is in jail.”
For her role in the case, the children’s mother, 27-year-old Breezy G. Parker, received a suspended sentence in October after previously pleading guilty to four felony counts of neglect of a dependent.
She will have the chance to regain custody of her children at a later time.
Journal Gazette reporter Jeff Wiehe contributed to this story.