FORT WAYNE – Marian Clark and her husband, Robert Boyko, had a house in Monroeville.
But it was in such disrepair that a family friend was going to gut it, free of charge, and replace the appliances and countertops and fix it up.
To do so, though, the family of nine had to vacate. So they took their dogs and their cats and their seven children and they went to the Hallmark Inn, 3730 E. Washington Blvd.
Within weeks, that room was so trashed and so filthy, the couple ended up with 14 felony charges between them and their children removed by social services in January.
They drew attention to themselves when they called Neighborhood Code Enforcement to complain about the lack of heat in the motel room.
When code officers got there, they called the police after finding the children in deplorable conditions inside a urine-soaked room with food strewn about. Some of the children were zip-tied to chairs and car seats.
None was dressed for the cold and snow, according to court documents.
The children were eating food from the floor, which was also being used as a bathroom by two cats and a dog.
Some of the children had red feet and hands from having been outside in an unheated van with temperatures dropping below 10 degrees. An infant girl was taken to a hospital and put in intensive care, suffering from hypothermia and jaundice.
On Thursday, the couple were in court to be sentenced on those charges. And while they faced no prospect of prison time, appearing in court in the presence of media and family members stressed them out to such an apparent degree they wanted their hearing continued.
But Allen County Prosecutor Karen Richards didn’t want that and Allen Superior Court Judge Fran Gull didn’t either, so they were sentenced to the terms of a plea agreement they signed a month ago – a total of six years in prison, but all the time suspended and four years to be served on probation.
It was an arrangement, Richards said, that was equal to anything they would have received had they gone to trial on the charges. The couple had little to no criminal history and with documented mental and physical health issues, it is unlikely they would have gone to jail.
The key, though, was that the plea agreement called for a complete severance of contact with the children for at least six years.
This gives the children the chance to grow up in a loving home without going back to them, Richards said. These are not people we are going to fix.
During the six years, the Department of Child Services will likely wrap up the family court cases involving the seven children and could move to terminate the couple’s rights as parents, allowing the children to be adopted.
Richards promised the court that as long as she was prosecutor, she would allow no modification to the no-contact orders, which Boyko refused to sign.
Their attorney, Patrick Murphy, told the court that while the children had been in squalid conditions, the dangers and discomfort they faced were no different from what Boyko and Clark faced themselves.
Richards, though, reminded the court that the couple had contact with DCS prior to this case and had been the beneficiaries of mental health care, parenting classes and other assistance.
In six months, they will be living in the same manner, she said. This is a lifestyle.
Boyko questioned the protective order preventing contact with his children.
I don’t drink. I don’t do drugs, he said. To punish my kids like that is horrible. I’m not a threat to my kids. We’ve got people out there abusing kids, breaking arms and they get two years (in prison) and their kids back. The system is messed up.
Gull offered no comment when she sentenced the pair, giving them three years on the first child neglect charge each faced and three years on each of the subsequent charges. But she ordered the last six charges to be served at the same time as each other, and consecutive to the first, for a total of six years. She ordered the six years suspended and four years to be served on probation.
After the hearing, Richards said the resolution of the case was appropriate.
I’m not sure prison would make a difference for these people, she said. This is a lifestyle they are comfortable with, but their children shouldn’t be sentenced to that life.