Updated Thursday, January 24, 2013 at 06:10 AM
An eastern Ohio couple has pleaded guilty to punishing their three children by forcing them into plastic storage boxes sealed with duct tape and only a square cut in the top for air.
The children, ages 5, 6 and 8, were crammed into the boxes as punishment June 16 at the family home in Steubenville while the parents went to the grocery store and left two uncles at home with them, authorities said. A friend of the family arrived at the house, got the children out of the boxes and contacted police.
Their father, James Taylor, faces up to three years in prison on charges of felony child endangerment and misdemeanor unlawful restraint, though the prosecution's recommended sentence was one year plus probation, Jefferson County assistant prosecutor Jeffrey Bruzzese told The Associated Press on Wednesday.
The prosecution recommended the children's stepmother, Samantha Taylor, spend four months behind bars for unlawful restraint, Bruzzese said.
"It's clear from the investigation that James was directing this abuse," Bruzzese said. "It's repulsive that Samantha allowed it to happen."
In a deal with prosecutors, the couple pleaded guilty Tuesday. A sentencing date for the pair hasn't been set.
The two uncles also pleaded guilty to unlawful restraint and were sentenced to a year of probation. Prosecutors said they helped put the children in the boxes, with one of them cutting the air holes.
Authorities said the children were in the boxes for about 15 to 30 minutes, with square holes cut out of the lids to expose the top part of their faces. Bruzzese said it was apparent that water was dumped on top of the children while they were restrained in the totes.
There was no indication they had been put in the boxes before, but Bruzzese has said it was part of a cycle of abuse by the parents that included having weights dropped on their feet.
Bruzzese told The AP that the children are now living with other relatives and doing well.
Steubenville is on the Ohio-West Virginia state line, about 150 miles east of Columbus.