DAKOTA CITY -- Parents are supposed to protect their children from harm and nurture them, not mistreat them to the point that they feel the need to hide a gun for self-defense, a judge told a couple charged with child abuse.
"I just have a really hard time figuring out how you two did this," Dakota County Judge Kurt Rager said to Blaine and Donella Busker after hearing how the two had deprived their two teenage sons of food, even sending rotten apples with them to school for lunch, and sitting on their chests, in one instance for more than an hour to the point that one of the boys heard a popping sound.
Rager sentenced each of the parents on Tuesday to a year's probation on one count of misdemeanor child abuse. Deviating from terms of a plea agreement in each case, Rager also ordered that both must serve 60 days in jail once they complete probation, unless the jail sentence is waived by the court upon their probation officer's application.
Plea agreements had called for Blaine Busker, 41, to be placed on probation. Donella Busker, 39, was to receive a 30-day jail sentence.
Rager suggested that the couple caught a break on their plea agreements in exchange for pleading no contest.
"You've been given a huge opportunity, and I would hope the trust is not misplaced," Rager said.
As part of the plea agreements, a second count of child abuse against each parent was dismissed.
Blaine and Donella Busker were arrested in August on allegations that they neglected and deprived the two boys of food from Jan. 1 through June 18.
Dakota County Attorney Kim Watson said the Buskers kept padlocks on the refrigerator and kitchen cupboards in their rural Emerson, Nebraska, home so the boys couldn't eat without permission. They were allowed to shower only every other day, and the bathroom was padlocked at all other times. One of the boys told authorities Blaine Busker once punished him by sweeping his legs out from under him, causing him to hit his head so hard he saw stars. The two also sat on the boys by sitting on them, making it hard for them to breathe.
One of the boys told a sheriff's deputy he had taken one of his father's guns and hidden it in the barn in case he and his brother needed to protect themselves.
Lawyers for both parents said the two have been attending parenting classes and family therapy with their sons, who remain in state custody. Both boys, who are adopted, have indicated they do not desire to be reunited with their parents, Blaine Busker's attorney said during Tuesday's hearing.
Rager ordered the Buskers to continue with therapy and write letters of apology to their sons.