Jodi Hildebrandt pleads guilty to 4 counts of aggravated child abuse

Dec 27, 2023, 11:10 AM | Updated: 7:34 pm

ST. GEORGE — Jodi Hildebrandt, Ruby Franke’s business partner, pleaded guilty to four counts of aggravated child abuse during a scheduled hearing in a St. George courtroom on Wednesday. Two charges were dropped as part of the plea agreement, which Hildebrandt said she willingly signed.

All four charges are second-degree felonies. She will be sentenced on Feb. 20 at 10:30 a.m. As part of the deal, Hildebrandt agreed to be sentenced to consecutive prison terms as opposed to concurrent, meaning she will serve those sentences back-to-back instead of at the same time.

Defense attorney Doug Terry said Hildebrandt decided to plead guilty before Franke entered into her plea agreement earlier this month.

“She has pled guilty because she did not want these children to have to testify,” Terry said after the hearing. “She takes responsibility and it is her main concern at this point that these children can heal, both physically and emotionally.”

“One of the toughest things we ask victims of alleged abuse to do is testify in a trial against their abusers. We are pleased that the cases against Ms. Hildebrandt and Ms. Franke have both been resolved with the defendants agreeing to serve time in prison, and there will not be a trial requiring witnesses to testify,” Washington County Attorney Eric Clarke said in a press release. “We are grateful for the multidisciplinary team that investigated this case. We have great law enforcement officers, case workers, and Children’s Justice Centers’ staff in our area and Utah County.”

Wednesday’s hearing marked Hildebrandt’s first appearance in court since her initial appearance on the charges in September. A status hearing set to address bail in mid-September was scrapped at the last minute, with attorneys for the women explaining they needed additional time to review “copious amounts” of evidence. Hildebrandt has been incarcerated for nearly four months.

Hildebrandt, 54, founded Connexions Classroom, an Orem-based company which, according to its website, aims to “invite and encourage healing and facilitate personal growth through impeccable honesty, rigorous personal responsibility and vulnerable humility.”

Hildebrand, along with her business partner, 41-year-old Ruby Franke, were each charged with six felony counts of aggravated child abuse. Franke previously ran the now-defunct “8 Passengers” YouTube channel that amassed more than 2.3 million subscribers.

Both were arrested after a 12-year-old child escaped from Hildebrandt’s Ivins home on Aug. 30, knocked on a neighbor’s door and asked for food and water. The neighbor called police, noting duct tape on the child’s ankles and wrists. According to Santa Clara-Ivins police, the child had open wounds from being tied up with rope and was emaciated and malnourished. A second child, 10, was found in the home and also determined to be malnourished.

Earlier this month, Franke pleaded guilty to four second-degree felony counts of aggravated child abuse. As part of the terms of Franke’s plea deal, she agreed to testify against Hildebrandt and two counts of child abuse were dismissed. Franke’s sentencing is also scheduled for Feb. 20.

Following her arrest, the Utah Division of Professional Licensing said Hildebrandt agreed to voluntarily surrender her mental health counseling license with limitations, ensuring she will not be able to practice if released pending trial.

Details of plea agreement

In the plea agreement, Hildebrandt pleaded guilty to four of the six reported incidences of child abuse, which included physical torture that caused serious physical injuries and severe emotional harm to two children between approximately May 22, 2022, and Aug. 30, 2023.

One of the abuses admitted to was forcing one of the children to do “physical tasks for hours and days at a time. These included wall-sits, carrying boxes full of books up and down stairs, and working outside.” The child was eventually “forced to do outside labor without shoes and in the summer heat,” the plea agreement stated. “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 deal, after the victim attempted to run away, their hands and feet were bound “many times” 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.

The plea agreement stated the bindings resulted in injuries that were “treated with homeopathic remedies and covered with duct tape” before binding the victim again.

Hildebrandt also admitted in the plea agreement that she regularly sought to indoctrinate and convince the victim that they were “evil and possessed,” … “needed to be willingly be obedient to avoid punishments” and “the punishments were necessary to repent.”

The victim was also told “everything that was being done to (them) were acts of love.”

The other child victim was also isolated and forced to do physical tasks, remain outside and denied food and water. They were also told they were “evil and needed to go through these things in order to repent.”

The victim was also “forced to run barefoot on dirt roads for an extended period of time” and Hildebrandt “either physically forced or coerced (the victim) to jump into a cactus multiple times.”

This is a breaking story. It will be updated. 

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Jodi Hildebrandt pleads guilty to 4 counts of aggravated child abuse