Adoptive mother pleads guilty to ‘horrific’ abuse of five children

Lebanon, Pennsylvania:  43-year-old Stephanie Duncan, believed by investigators to have been the primary abuser of five adopted children pleaded guilty to all charges on Wednesday, October 20 before Judge Bradford H. Charles via video feed.


The plea was indicated as an open plea meaning that there had been no agreement made between the defense and prosecution concerning her possible sentencing.


Duncan faces a possible maximum sentence of 288 years in prison and up to a $65,000 fine. The charges against her included aggravated assault, simple assault, conspiracy, strangulation, endangering the welfare of children and tampering with evidence. The children are between the ages of 6 and 15 years of age.


Judge Charles will sentence her on December 22.


Her husband, 44-year-old Robert Duncan was also charged in the case. Investigators found that despite knowing of the abuse, he did nothing to stop it. He was sentenced to between six and 30 years in prison.


"It was one of the most horrific scenes I've been to and knowing that it was suffered by children makes it that much worse," Pier Hess Graf told PennLive.


The investigation was launched January 13, 2021 after an 11-year-old boy was brought to Penn State Health Milton S. Hershey Medical Center after being found unresponsive with signs of "serious bodily injury." Among those injuries were a core body temperature of 85 degrees, an unusually low blood pressure and bruising to his neck, shoulders, back, abdomen, hip, and genitals. "The medical staff determined the location of the child's bruises were not consistent with accidental injury."


Records indicate that the boy nearly died on several occasions while being treated at the hospital.


The remaining children were removed from the Duncan's care on January 15 and soon told investigators what had been happening within the home. 


According to the children, they were subjected to hours of difficult chores each day and had to follow a list of "rules" which dictated every aspect of their lives down to the very position in which they slept and the manner in which they consumed their food and water. 


"Each child provided statement which also illustrated the disturbing experience of watching S. Duncan and R. Duncan physically attack his or her siblings," the district attorney's office reported. "Even minor misbehaviors, such as taking too long to consume water or complete a chore, resulted in horrific, violent abuse."


Investigators additionally found that the children's rooms had alarms on the doors and security cameras.


During his sentencing on October 13, Robert apologized saying, "I recognized the nature of what I have done... and I was wrong."


Judge Charles didn't mince words when he said, "There are times when an apology is trite, and this is one of those times. It takes a sociopathic sadist to torture children. It takes someone who has no regard for humanity to sit back and let it happen."