COURTS & LEGAL

Ruby Franke’s parents, brother say Franke was brainwashed

Feb 22, 2024, 8:15 PM

CORRECTS SENTENCE TO UP TO 30 YEARS, NOT 60 YEARS - Defendant Ruby Franke looks on during court Tue...

CORRECTS SENTENCE TO UP TO 30 YEARS, NOT 60 YEARS - Defendant Ruby Franke looks on during court Tuesday, Feb. 20, 2024, in St. George, Utah. Franke, a Utah mother of six who gave parenting advice to millions via a once-popular a YouTube channel, shared a tearful apology to her children for physically and emotionally abusing them before a judge sentenced her to serve up to 30 years in prison, due to a Utah state law that caps the sentence duration for consecutive penalties. (Sheldon Demke/St. George News via AP, Pool)
Credit: ASSOCIATED PRESS

(Sheldon Demke/St. George News via AP, Pool)

ST. GEORGE — Ruby Franke’s parents asked a judge to show “as much mercy” as possible ahead of her sentencing this week for child abuse, saying their daughter had been brainwashed.

In two letters addressed to 5th District Judge John Walton and the Utah Board of Pardons and Parole, the parents and Franke’s younger brother said Franke had isolated herself from family and her friends at the encouragement of Franke’s co-defendant Jodi Hildebrandt, comparing Hildebrandt to a cult leader.

Chad and Jennifer Griffiths, who are currently serving a church mission in Serbia, said they noticed a shift in their daughter’s thinking in the summer of 2020, and a few months later, she had cut ties with her parents, siblings and close friends.

“For three years, what brief communications we had with her she accused us of either things that never happen(ed) or she grossly exaggerated the events that did. She was delusional. She was so deeply brainwashed we could not recognize her,” the parents wrote in a letter filed in court.

Beau Griffiths said he and his sister both joined Hildebrandt’s mental health company Connexions Classroom program.

“Many of the teachings from the Connexions program were reasonable and good. Unfortunately, as I later discovered, that is what made the program so dangerous. If it was entirely crazy it wouldn’t have had any influence. The program was by all definitions a cult,” Beau Griffiths wrote. “Ms. Hildebrandt was the sole source of what was right or wrong and discouraged people making their own life choices. A recurring theme was the principle of separation and isolation, which the leader routinely prescribed.”

He said he witnessed “numerous marriage relationships separated through Ms. Hildebrandt’s encouragement,” including his own for a time because couples in the program felt “a looming threat of divorce.”

Both Franke and Hildebrandt were sentenced Tuesday to four consecutive terms of one to 15 years in prison on four counts of aggravated child abuse, a second-degree felony.

Franke was arrested after her son climbed out of a window of Hildebrandt’s home in Ivins, Washington County, and ran to a neighbor’s home seeking food and water. Investigators said they later discovered the boy had been tied to the ground before escaping.

Franke admitted to physically torturing her son, requiring him to do physical tasks like wall sits and carrying boxes full of books, physically restraining her son, holding her son’s head underwater, forcing her children to stand in direct sunlight resulting in serious sunburns, forcing her daughter to walk barefoot outside, and denying both children adequate water and food. A plea statement said Franke sought to convince her children they were evil and possessed, and the punishments were necessary for their repentance.

Franke gained millions of followers on her “8 Passengers” YouTube channel about her family.

Beau Griffiths said he thinks Hildebrandt wanted to use Franke’s YouTube platform for her own influence.

He said at Hildebrandt’s encouragement, his sister “systematically pushed those around her away, first myself, and then our sisters, parents and close friends, and then her husband, and finally her own children. Ruby has clearly been brainwashed. She has been taken advantage of by Ms. Hildebrandt.”

Like his parents, he said Franke is now trying to restore relationships she lost.

“It came as no surprise to me that as soon as Ruby was removed from the fog of the cult, she recognized she was wrong and was ready and willing to unfeignedly take responsibility for the wrongs she had done,” he said.

About two months after Franke’s parents heard about the abuse of their grandchildren, they said they received a postcard with a “tender apology” from their daughter. They said she expressed gratitude for her incarceration “and felt the mighty wakeup call was a huge blessing.”

During her sentencing, Franke said when police arrested and handcuffed her, she gained her freedom. She called her children her “six little chicks” and said she was a mama duck bringing them to safety, but can see now she had led them to danger.

Chad and Jennifer Griffiths said since that point, they have seen their daughter return to the person they knew before and her commitment to her family is stronger than ever. They expressed a hope that she will have a relationship with her children, who will remember the mother she was and forgive her — which would be the “greatest healing balm of all.”

“All she ever wanted from the time she was a little girl was a family to love and nurture,” they said.

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Ruby Franke’s parents, brother say Franke was brainwashed