Judith Leekin sentenced to 20 years
FT. PIERCE, FL - Speaking softly and often breaking into tears, Judith Leekin told Circuit Judge Robert Belanger she was sorry.
Leekin was in court Wednesday afternoon for a change of plea hearing. The 63-year old pleaded no contest to charges of aggravated child abuse.
Judge Belanger sentenced her to 20 years in prison.
Leekin adopted 11 special needs children in New York City before moving to Port St. Lucie in 1998.
It was at her two-story Port St. Lucie home that police say Leekin forced the children to live in a small hallway.
A detective with Port St. Lucie Police testified Wednesday that Leekin used zip-ties and handcuffs to bind the children, gave them only a thin blanket and pillow and made them sleep on the tile floor.
Investigators say the children lived on a diet of Ramen noodles and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.
Leekin's attorneys say she still loves the children and agreed to the plea deal to avoid a lengthy criminal trial. A trial would have forced Leekin's children to testify against her.
Leekin was already sentenced in federal court for defrauding the New York state adoption system out of more than $1 million.
She will serve her Florida sentence concurrently and she won't be eligible for parole until she's at least 80-years old.