Christopher Tucker took responsibility Thursday for nearly starving his adopted daughter to death, locking her in the basement for months and only taking food to her irregularly.
Tucker, 36, was sentenced to prison for one to 15 years by 3rd District Judge Leslie A. Lewis, who vowed to do her best to see he will serve every day of his sentence.His wife, Rebecca Tucker, 34, was sentenced to zero to five years in prison.
The Trenton couple pleaded guilty in a plea bargain, deciding between themselves that Christopher Tucker would plead guilty as charged to a second-degree felony count of child abuse and Rebecca Tucker would plead to a lesser third-degree felony.
Citing pre-trial publicity in the highly publicized case, it was transferred from Cache County to 3rd District Court in Salt Lake City.
Christopher Tucker admitted responsibility for the treatment of Brittany Tucker, their 6-year-old adopted daughter. He became, he admitted to the judge, "the father from hell, someone I always hated, and that was a child abuser."
Rebecca Tucker's defense attorney, Shannon Demler, said his client wanted to give Brittany up for adoption after the girl's behavior problems became more than she could handle and began affecting the rest of the family, which includes the Tuckers' two natural sons and Brittany's 4-year-old half-sister.
But Christopher Tucker resisted, Demler said, citing the $500 per month the family was receiving for each girl from their home state of Michigan.
As a result, Christopher Tucker took over sole responsibility for Brittany's care. That care was to lock her in the basement of the family home and feed her table scraps, according to Cache County prosecutor Scott Wyatt.
Wyatt called the girl's treatment among the worst crimes he's seen in his career as a prosecutor. The Tuckers systematically and methodically starved the girl almost to death, he said in Thursday's emotion-laden sentencing, denying her even a quick and painless death.
While the Tuckers, their two sons and Brittany's sister were upstairs in their home, eating, playing games, with warm beds, Brittany was locked in a cold basement with a concrete floor, a tub of filthy water and bare springs to sleep on, Wyatt said.
After the Tuckers' two sons told the judge that their parents were loving, caring people who didn't do anything to hurt children, Wyatt said his greatest fear "has just been thrown in front of my face.
"That fear is that these two boys will walk away from this thinking their parents are right," Wyatt said. "I fear for the future of these boys, and I fear for the future of their children."
Family members indicated the two boys will be placed with them while their parents serve their prison time. Brittany and her sister have been placed in foster care and are thriving, according to their foster father, Randall K. Erickson.
Lewis, who met with the victim before the sentencing, said she is now "a child who is no longer looking at dying in a few days. She is a robust, healthy, plump, beautiful little girl with a healthy complexion and beautiful hair."
She contrasted that with photos taken of Brittany after child welfare workers took her out of the Tucker basement last fall, photos she made the Tuckers look at during their sentencing.
"This brittle, scarred, burned body, this emaciated body was your creation," Lewis told the Tuckers.
According to prosecutors, Rebecca Tucker may face further charges in Michigan, which they left in 1996 in their move to Utah. Brittany's sister, Danielle, then 4, died in what authorities first ruled an accidental fall down the stairs of the Tucker home.
Under further questioning after the Utah incident came to their attention, Michigan investigators elicited a confession from Rebecca Tucker that she pushed the girl down the steps, causing her fatal head injury, Wyatt said.
The Tuckers took custody of the three girls in Michigan as foster parents in 1993 and later adopted them. The three suffered from physical and emotional disabilities diagnosed by caseworkers as fetal alcohol syndrome.