LOCAL NEWS

Ruby Franke pleads guilty to 4 counts of child abuse

Dec 18, 2023, 11:21 AM | Updated: Mar 22, 2024, 7:40 am

ST. GEORGE — Ruby Franke, a Utah mother who was once a popular family YouTube vlogger, has pleaded guilty to four second-degree felony counts of aggravated child abuse. As part of the plea agreement, Franke agreed to testify against Jodi Hildebrandt and two additional child abuse charges were dropped.

In court Monday, Franke said she understood the terms of the agreement. As the final count was read and she was asked how she pleads, she said, “With my deepest regret and sorrow for my children, guilty.”

“She pled guilty to four counts of aggravated child abuse, the state agreed to dismiss the two other counts of child abuse,” said Eric Clarke, the county attorney for Washington County.

Ruby Franke stands in chains in a court

Ruby Franke at a court hearing on Dec. 18, 2023, in St. George, Utah, during which she pleaded guilty to child abuse charges. (St. George News/Pool)

Clarke said Franke’s deal with the state will require her to serve time in prison.

“Each count is a one- to 15-year term but under the Utah sentencing guidelines, that’s all flexible and up to the Utah Board of Pardons and Parole,” he said.

Clarke said Franke will serve time for each count consecutively. She has already been in jail for over 100 days, which will count for the time served.

Sentencing for Franke is scheduled for Feb. 20 at 10 a.m.

Franke arrested

Franke, 41, well known for her now-deleted “8 Passengers” YouTube channel, was arrested in August on suspicion of child abuse after police say a malnourished child climbed out of the window of an Ivins home and ran to a neighbor’s home for help.

The home belonged to Hildebrandt, Franke’s business partner who founded Utah County-based mental heath counseling company “Connexions Classroom,” who was also arrested and booked on suspicion of two second-degree felony counts of aggravated child abuse.

“The victim informed officers that ‘Jodi’ put the ropes on their ankles and wrists and that ‘they’ used cayenne pepper and honey to dress the wounds,” reads an Aug. 31 search warrant from the Santa Clara-Ivins Police Department obtained by the Deseret News. Police also found two sets of handcuffs, rope and duct tape in Hildebrandt’s home, detailed in the warrant.

Winward Law, which is representing Franke, released a statement to media on Friday saying Hildebrandt took advantage of Franke’s quest for improvement and “twisted it into something heinous.”

Full transcript of 911 call that led to arrests of Jodi Hildebrandt and Ruby Franke

Legal analyst Greg Skordas told KSL TV on Friday that he believes prosecutors may now be resetting their focus on the Hildebrandt.

“It’s not uncommon at all when you have cases involving multiple co-defendants for the state to go to one perhaps that is the least culpable of the others and get them to help the state’s case,” he said. “That seems to be what’s happening here.”

In the statement, Franke’s lawyers said she is aware that her husband has filed for divorce and is devastated but acknowledges and understands her husband’s anger and reasoning.

Franke’s brother Beau, sister Julie, and both of her parents attended the hearing. KSL TV’s Shelby Lofton, who was in St. George for the hearing, said Franke made eye contact and smiled at them as she entered and exited the courtroom Monday. Family members declined to comment outside the courthouse after the hearing ended.

Admitted Charges

In the plea agreement, Franke admitted to four of the six reported incidences of child abuse, including physical torture, causing severe emotional harm and physical injuries.

One of the abuses admitted to was forcing one of her children to do “physical tasks for hours and days at a time… including wall-sits, carrying boxes full of books up and down stairs, and… (doing) outside labor without shoes… in the summer heat,” according to the plea agreement. “These actions resulted in repeated and serious sunburns with blistered and sloughing skin.”

“(The victim) was denied adequate water for several of the days … and was punished when (they) secretly consumed water,” court documents stated. “(The victim) was denied sufficient food, and when given food, (the victim) was given very plain meals (e.g., rice and chicken) while others in the house ate regular and more flavorful meals.”

According to the plea agreement, after the victim attempted to run away, their hands and feet were regularly bound.

These bindings included using two sets of handcuffs, “one on (the victim’s) wrists and one on (their) ankles. At times, with (the victim) lying on (their) stomach, ropes were used to tie the two sets of handcuffs together so that (their) arms and lower legs were lifted off the ground,” court documents stated.

According to the plea agreement, the bindings resulted in injuries that permanently damaged the victim’s muscles. The injuries were treated by Franke with alternative medicine and covered with duct tape before binding the victim again.

“Specific instances of abuse committed by the defendant include kicking (the victim) while wearing boots, holding (their) head underwater, and cutting off oxygen by placing her hands over (the victim’s) mouth and nose,” according to court documents.

Concerns about Ruby Franke’s children reported to police, DCFS more than a year ago

Another one of the child abuse claims caused emotional harm to the victim that began in May.

“The defendant and another adult regularly sought to indoctrinate (the victim) and convince (them) that (they were) evil and possessed,” the plead agreement stated. “And that the punishments were necessary to repent … (and) everything was doing done to (them) were acts of love.”

According to the plea agreement, Franke admitted to two additional child abuse claims directed at another one of her children, including forced labor without shoes and emotional harm.

The two dropped child abuse charges involved alleged abuse towards both of Franke’s children. Court documents do not detail what alleged abuse occurred besides the alleged physical injuries inflicted on them by Franke.

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Ruby Franke pleads guilty to 4 counts of child abuse