BOISE – A husband and wife accused of allowing their two oldest sons to sexually molest three of their infant and toddler children face felony charges.
Thomas Halbesleben, 33, and Jessica Halbesleben, 32, of the Boise suburb of Eagle, appeared Tuesday in 4th District Court here on four counts of felony child injury.
They were advised of their rights. Because defense lawyer Craig Steveley asked for more time to review the case, a new hearing date was set for June 28, a court clerk said.
The man and woman were arrested last week in Eagle, after Ada County sheriff’s investigators had searched for them for about a month.
Seven of the couple’s eight children have been in state custody since February, when investigators found evidence of abuse and neglect in their home, sheriff’s Detective Craig Durrell said. The other child has been in state custody since 1998. The children range from 1 to 13 years old, sheriff’s reports said.
“This is one of the worst cases we have ever worked,” Durrell told the Idaho Statesman newspaper.
Prosecutors contend the couple allowed their 10- and 12-year-old sons to sexually abuse two of their girls and a boy. The fourth count relates to conditions of their home.
One girl was 2 years old when the abuse started in October 2002, court records said. The other girl was less than 8 months old. The sexual abuse of the boy allegedly began in December 2003, when he was 1 month old, prosecutors said.
Detectives believe the parents were aware of the abuse, but failed to report it to authorities and tried to handle it themselves by locking the older boys in a bedroom, Durrell said.
The two older boys, although now in a foster home, could be charged in juvenile court for lewd conduct with a minor, Durrell said.
“The sad thing is, these kids, as much as they’re suspects, they’re victims,” he added.
Court records show that in 1998, Thomas Halbesleben was convicted of felony child endangerment after he knocked one of his children’s head against a wall. He was sentenced to five years in prison in 1999, but the sentence was suspended after he completed a six-month Department of Correction evaluation program. He successfully completed his probation in 2004, records indicate.
More recently, the couple had again been investigated by numerous health and welfare, law enforcement and school officials, Durrell said. On Feb. 25, investigators responded to a report of a toddler crawling through a broken glass window at the Halbeslebens’ house, Durrell said.
During their initial investigation, deputies found filthy and dangerous conditions. Dirty diapers were lying on the floor and there was little food in the house, Durrell said. Some of the younger children had untreated wounds.
The children who were present were taken into state custody that day, Durrell said.
Idaho Health and Welfare Department spokesman Tom Shanahan said federal law prevents him from disclosing any details of the children in state custody.
In 2000, Thomas Halbesleben’s brother, August Halbesleben and his wife, Jeanine, were convicted of felony injury to a child for intentionally starving their son.
At their trial, August and Jeanine maintained they were disciplining the boy with a bland diet and that he was genetically predisposed to be skinny. They were convicted, but the conviction was overturned in 2003 by the Idaho Court of Appeals after the couple had spent three years in prison.
The appeals court ordered a new trial because the jury was improperly instructed about the mental element required for conviction of felony injury to a child.
August Halbesleben later pleaded guilty to two charges of misdemeanor injury to a child and Jeanine Halbesleben pleaded guilty to one felony charge of injury to a child. In exchange for the guilty pleas, prosecutors agreed to recommend probation.
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