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Ruby Franke Pleads Guilty to Child Abuse Charges, As Lawyers Say She Fell "Under the Influence" of Jodi Hildebrandt
Lawyers for parenting influencer Ruby Franke stated that Jodi Hildebrant "took advantage" of their client's belief in her "and twisted it into something heinous."
The parenting vlogger who was accused of starving and emotionally harming two of her kids pleaded guilty to child abuse charges in Washington County, Utah, on Monday.
Ruby Franke and her business partner Jodi Hildebrandt — who had been dishing out parenting advice on a video series together — were arrested in late August. They were later each initially charged with six felony counts of aggravated child abuse.
How did Ruby Franke plead to charges of felony child abuse?
Franke pleaded guilty to four felony counts of second-degree aggravated child abuse on Monday, NBC News reported. As part of the plea deal, Franke has agreed to testify against Hildebrandt and two of the six child abuse charges were dropped.
Prior to the deal, Winward Law, the firm representing Franke, said in a statement Friday, "Our client is working with the prosecutor’s office and anticipates resolving this matter quickly by entering a plea agreement with the court on Monday, December 18th."
Both Franke and Hildebrandt were arrested at Hildebrandt’s home in Ivins, Utah, on August 30 after police got a call that morning about "a juvenile asking for help," the Santa Clara-Ivins Public Safety Department said in a press release on August 31.
"The calling party stated the juvenile appeared to be emaciated and malnourished, with open wounds and duct tape around the extremities," the release stated. "The juvenile was asking for food and water. The condition of the juvenile was so severe that they were seen by Santa Clara-Ivins EMS and transported to a local area hospital."
The call to authorities was made by a neighbor after Franke’s 12-year-old son escaped Hildebrandt’s house, the Associated Press reported.
The 911 caller said, “I think he’s been ... he’s been detained ... He’s obviously covered in wounds," the AP reported, adding that the boy said that two of his siblings, ages 10 and 14, were still at Hildebrandt’s house.
Prosecutors said that both Franke's son who escaped, and a daughter who was 10 at the time, were starved and harmed emotionally, according to court records.
Attorneys for Franke now claim that she was under the influence of Hildebrant — a therapist whose license was temporarily suspended in 2012, and who founded the life-coaching business, ConneXions — leading her to have a "distorted sense of morality."
What did Ruby Franke's lawyers say about Jodi Hildebrandt?
"Ruby Franke is a devoted mother and is also a woman committed to constant improvement," Franke's attorneys said Friday in a statement that was obtained by Salt Lake City-based NBC affiliate KSL-TV. "Initially, Ms. Franke believed that Jodi Hildebrant had the insight to offer a path to continual improvement. Ms. Hildebrant took advantage of this quest and twisted it into something heinous.
"Over an extended period, Ms. Hildebrant systematically isolated Ruby Franke from her extended family, older children, and her husband, Kevin Franke," her lawyers continued. "This prolonged isolation resulted in Ms. Franke being subjected to a distorted sense of morality, shaped by Ms. Hildebrandt’s influence."
Where are Ruby Franke and Jodi Hildebrandt now?
Both Franke and Hildebrandt were listed as of December 18 as being current jail inmates, according to the Washington County Sheriff's Office in Utah.
What did Ruby Franke say while pleading guilty in court?
While responding with her plea when the final count against her was read in court on Monday, Franke said, “With my deepest regret and sorrow for my children, guilty," according to KSL-TV.
When will Ruby Franke be sentenced?
Franke is set to be sentenced on February 20, 2024 at 10 a.m. in the child abuse case.
Franke's lawyers claim that her months in jail have allowed her time for introspection and rehabilitation, and that she has been trying to reconnect with her family.
"During Ruby Franke’s incarceration in Washington County jail over the past few months, she has actively engaged in an introspection that has allowed her to reset her moral compass and understand the full weight of her actions," states the law firm representing Franke. "Ms. Franke is committed to taking responsibility for the part she played in the events leading up to her incarceration.
"Demonstrating a sincere dedication to personal growth and rehabilitation, she has actively begun the process by reaching out to members of her family," the firm continued. "Through heartfelt apologies, she seeks to mend relationships and contribute positively to the healing journey of her family."
The firm's statement added that their client is aware that her husband, Kevin Franke, has filed for divorce. "While she is devastated by this news, she acknowledges and understands his anger and reasoning," the lawyers stated. "Despite the pain, she respects his decisions and remains hopeful that, with time, she can contribute to rebuilding trust and fostering understanding within their family. Ruby has offered her full cooperation to help the children reunite with their father."
Kevin filed for divorce on November 29, and his lawyer has said that the couple had been separated for about a year before Franke's arrest in August, according to The Salt Lake Tribune.
The newspaper previously reported that Franke's parenting advice YouTube channel, “8 Passengers” — which was named for the number of people in her family that then included her husband and their six kids — had more than 2 million subscribers at one point. But her parenting decisions depicted on the channel, such as her saying she wouldn't bring food to a 6-year-old daughter who forgot to bring her lunch to school, led to the channel being shut down in 2022.
Hildebrandt wasn't in court Monday, but is expected to appear before a judge on December 27, The Salt Lake Tribune reported Monday.