Paulding County, Ga., Sheriff's Office
Paul and Sheila Comer in undated sheriff's photos.
The mother and stepfather of an 18-year-old Georgia boy who was found gaunt and severely malnourished last year across the country in Los Angeles were each sentenced to 15 years in prison Thursday.
Paul Comer, 48, and Sheila Comer, 40, of Dallas, Ga., pleaded guilty in Paulding County Superior Court to cruelty to children and false imprisonment.
As part of the plea deal, the Comers agreed to forfeit all of their assets, which will be sold and put into a trust to care for their son, Mitch Comer, 18, and his two sisters, ages 13 and 11.
A security guard discovered Mitch Comer starving and shivering at a bus station in Los Angeles on Sept. 11. He was 5 feet, 1 inch tall and weighed 87 pounds; he was so undernourished that authorities at first thought he was 12 years old.
The young man told police that his parents had given him $200 on his 18th birthday, put him on a bus in Mississippi and ordered him to never return to their home in Dallas, about 40 miles northwest of Atlanta.
What he then told investigators was even more shocking.
Investigators said the young man was locked in a bedroom for a year and then locked in a bathroom for another year, with the fixtures removed so he couldn't turn on the lights or the water. Two of the initial charges against Paul Comer alleged that he kicked his stepson in the groin and punched him in the face.
The young man's sisters told police they didn't even know what color their brother's hair was because they hadn't seen him for two years, even though he was living with them.
Paul and Sheila Comer contended that Mitch was a troubled child and that the treatment was for his own good. But faced with what could have been more than 100 years in prison, they pleaded guilty Thursday.
"What we did was we avoided the necessity of putting either Mitch or his two sisters through a two-week trial which would have been incredibly emotionally draining for them and probably more detrimental than it would have been worth it," Paulding County District Attorney Dick Donovan told NBC station WXIA of Atlanta.
The Comers' daughters remain in protective custody. Mitch Comer is living with a foster family at an undisclosed location while he attends private school.
He wasn't in court for his parents' sentencing Thursday. WXIA said it was told that he preferred to go to class.