LOCAL NEWS

‘8 Passengers’ mom Ruby Franke and Jodi Hildebrandt sentenced for aggravated child abuse

Feb 20, 2024, 10:18 AM | Updated: Feb 21, 2024, 6:08 am

ST. GEORGE — Ruby Franke, known for her now-deleted 8 Passengers YouTube channel, and Jodi Hildebrandt, founder of Orem-based mental health company Connexions Classroom, were sentenced to prison on Tuesday after both previously pleaded guilty to four counts of aggravated child abuse.

Fifth District Judge John Walton issued four sentences of one to 15 years in prison on four counts of aggravated child abuse, a second-degree felony, for both Franke and Hildebrandt. He said serving the sentences consecutively would be appropriate, meaning each woman will serve between four and 30 years — the maximum aggregate under state law for consecutive prison sentences.

Franke said that over the past four years, she followed counseling that led her to a dark place. She claimed her belief and “paranoia” led her to her criminal acts.

“I take full accountability for my actions, and it is my preference that I serve a prison sentence,” she said during Tuesday’s hearing. She also thanked the police and called them “angels” for saving her children.

“The moment (an officer) handcuffed me was the moment I gained my freedom,” she said.

She said she and Hildebrandt inflicted the injuries and she apologizes to her husband, Kevin Franke, who has filed for divorce. “My husband of more than 23 years — you were the love of my life,” she said. “I’m so sorry I leave to you to finish what we both started together.”

She also apologizes to her children, saying she was in a situation where she believed right was wrong and wrong was right.

“I took from you your mother,” she said. “How terrifying this must have been for you.”

Hildebrandt also read a statement during her sentencing hearing.

“I sincerely love these children,” she said. “I desire for them to heal physically and emotionally. One of the reasons I did not go to trial is I did not want them to emotionally relive experiences which have been detrimental to them. My hope and prayer is that they will heal and move forward to have beautiful lives. I am willing to submit to what the state feels would be an appropriate amount of time served to make retribution.”

Walton said she “terrorized” the children, and as an adult figure with specialized training, she should have protected them.

“What happened to these children and your philosophy in dealing with them frankly seems detached from reality or any objective standard of decency, or even common sense,” the judge said.

The county attorney said once the 30-day appeal period is up for both women, more information will be released released on this case.

Case history

Franke, a Utah mother who was once a popular family YouTube vlogger, pleaded guilty to four second-degree felony counts of aggravated child abuse on Dec. 18, 2023. As part of the plea agreement, Franke agreed to testify against Hildebrandt and two additional child abuse charges were dropped. Hildebrandt pleaded guilty to four counts of aggravated child abuse on Dec. 27, 2023. Two counts were dropped as part of the agreement.

Franke and Hildebrandt were arrested in August 2023 after police said a malnourished child climbed out of the window of Hildebrandt’s home in Ivins, Utah, and ran to a neighbor’s home for help.

The 12-year-old victim told police Hildebrandt tied them up with a rope and put cayenne pepper in their wounds.

“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.

In her 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 Frankie 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.

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.”

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‘8 Passengers’ mom Ruby Franke and Jodi Hildebrandt sentenced for aggravated child abuse