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Judge to set prison sentences for YouTube mom Ruby Franke and business partner in child abuse case

SALT LAKE CITY — A Utah judge will set prison sentences Tuesday for Ruby Franke, a mother of six who gave parenting advice via a once-popular YouTube channel called “8 Passengers,” and her business partner after they admitted to physically and emotionally abusing Franke’s children.

In back-to-back sentencing hearings in southern Utah, Franke and mental health counselor Jodi Hildebrandt could speak for the first time since they each pleaded guilty to four counts of aggravated child abuse for trying to convince Franke’s two youngest children that they were evil, possessed and needed to be punished to repent.

Judge John J. Walton has accepted plea agreements from both women in which they agreed to serve prison terms and described their offenses in detail.

Franke’s 12-year-old son escaped on Aug. 30, 2023, through a window of Hildebrandt’s house in the southern Utah city of Ivins and asked a neighbor to call the police, according to a 911 call released by the St. George Police Department. The boy was thin, covered in wounds and had duct tape around his ankles and wrists. He told investigators that Hildebrandt had put ropes on his limbs and used cayenne pepper and honey to dress his cuts, according to a search warrant.

The two women were arrested at Hildebrandt’s home and were each charged with six felony counts of aggravated child abuse. Franke pleaded guilty to four of her six charges and not guilty to two at a hearing on Dec. 18, 2023. Hildebrandt also pleaded guilty to four counts, and two counts were dismissed as part of her plea deal. Each charge carries a prison sentence of one to 15 years, which could run consecutively.

Franke admitted in her plea agreement to kicking her son while wearing boots, holding his head under water and closing off his mouth and nose with her hands. She and Hildebrandt said they also forced the boy into hours of physical labor in the summer heat without much food or water, causing dehydration and blistering sunburns.

Hildebrandt admitted to coercing Franke’s youngest daughter, who was 9 at the time, to jump into a cactus multiple times and run barefoot on dirt roads until her feet blistered. The boy and girl were taken to the hospital after the arrests and placed in state custody along with two more of their siblings.

Franke and her husband, Kevin Franke, launched “8 Passengers” on YouTube in 2015 and amassed a large following as they documented their experiences raising six children.

Prior to her 2023 arrest, Ruby Franke was already a divisive figure in the parent vlogging world. The Frankes were criticized online for certain parenting decisions, including for banning their oldest son from his bedroom for seven months for pranking his younger brother. In other videos, Ruby Franke talked about refusing to take lunch to a kindergartener who forgot it at home and threatening to cut the head off a young girl’s stuffed toy to punish her for cutting things in the house.

The YouTube channel has since ended and Kevin Franke has filed for divorce.

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