Sinhue Johnson
Sinhue Johnson

Two of five children allegedly hidden from the world by their parents testified Monday against their father, saying they weren't allowed outside and rarely left their home.

A 16-year-old boy and his 14-year-old sister answered questions about having no electricity, heat or running water for periods of time at their former 734 S. Duke St. home in York City.

"Our parents, they really didn't want us to be seen (by) the world," the boy said.

He said he and his siblings were "brainwashed in a sense" and "in our parents' control" by father Sinhue A. Johnson and mother Louann Bowers.

The boy said since being placed in foster care, he and his siblings are getting to experience "being in the outside ... world, being able to have friends, being able to go outside.

Louann Bowers
Louann Bowers
"

Foster care: All five of the couple's children remain in foster care, as does their sixth child, born to Bowers in York County Prison.

Johnson, 48, has been locked up for nearly three years, charged with five counts of endangering the welfare of children.

He told The York Dispatch he never endangered his children, that they received educational instruction at home every day, and that they never went without food.

The boy testified the entire family slept in one bedroom, "due to the condition of the house," which included a leaking roof and no heat. For a time, he said, they had running water, thanks to a neighbor who let them hook up a hose.

He said his father worked under the table, doing all kinds of jobs, and that Johnson was teaching his son by taking him on some of those jobs.

The 14-year-old girl testified the house was "very messy," with dirty dishes all over the place.

Kerosene heater: The kids said their family used a kerosene heater to cook and to stay warm; they also had a camp stove and a gas grill to cook on.

The girl testified she and her siblings ate one or two meals a day, but sometimes had no food. Her older brother said mostly, they had three meals a day.

The kids weren't allowed outside, according to the girl.

"Our parents told us it wasn't safe," she said.

She said sometimes, when their dad was working and their mom was sleeping, they'd sneak out a window and onto the roof.

"We'd just sit out there and look at everything," she said.

No doctors, school: Both children confirmed they never attended school and were never examined by doctors or dentists.

Under cross-examination by defense attorney Korey Leslie, the 16-year-old confirmed the house was messier in the photos he was shown in court Monday than it was when his family lived there.

But the 14-year-old indicated the level of squalor was about the same.

Senior deputy prosecutor Amy Eyster said she'll call one more sibling to the witness stand on Tuesday.

Johnson has opted for a non-jury trial, meaning Common Pleas Judge Richard K. Renn will determine Johnson's innocence or guilt.

Denies allegations: On Monday, Johnson said he intends to take the witness stand on his own behalf.

He insisted his children were allowed outside to play with cousins and visit family and parks.

But Johnson confirmed he and Bowers didn't enroll their children in school.

"That's a private matter," he said. "That's our right to choose."

Johnson said there have never been any allegations he or Bowers physically harmed the children, and no evidence they suffered emotional issues or physical ailments.

Like most kids, he said, they had to follow rules including brushing their teeth every day and studying daily.

It's been about three years since he's spoken with his children, Johnson said. He vowed to regain custody of them and was critical of police and child services caseworkers.

"They took my children, slandered my name and dragged me through the mud," he said.

Mom's case: Bowers, 35, of East Berlin, pleaded no contest in May 2011 to five counts of child endangerment, was sentenced to 11-1/2 to 23 months in prison, and was released a month later.

Johnson also has pending criminal cases charging him with illegal gun possession and theft of leased property. He maintains his innocence in those cases as well, Leslie said, and faces separate trials for them.

If Johnson were to be found guilty in all three of his cases, he's likely already served enough prison time to cover the sentences he'd receive, according to Leslie.

Eyster previously said she'd offered Johnson a plea agreement that would give him a time-served sentence and avoid making the children testify.

Mental-health issues: In January 2012, Renn concluded Johnson was incompetent to stand trial and sent him to a state hospital, despite the fact Johnson fought that determination and wanted his day in court.

Renn based his ruling, in part, on a court-ordered psychiatric evaluation, which determined Johnson suffered from a psychotic disorder and a personality disorder.

In November, doctors at Torrance State Hospital in Pittsburgh determined Johnson had been made competent to stand trial, and he was brought back to York County.

He was released on supervised bail on Jan. 31.

As part of his bail conditions, Johnson is not allowed to have any contact with any potential witnesses in the cases against him, including his own children, Leslie has said.

-- Staff writer Liz Evans Scolforo can also be reached at levans@yorkdispatch.com.