Sinhue A. Johnson put five of his children at risk of danger by allowing them to live in a "squalid" home and failed in his duty as a parent by refusing to provide them with structured education, a judge determined.
Common Pleas Judge Richard K. Renn found Johnson, 48, guilty of five counts of felony child endangerment and sentenced him to 11-1/2 to 23 months in prison and two years of probation.
Because Johnson has already spent about 875 days in prison, his punishment amounted to a time-served sentence.
As he left the courtroom Tuesday afternoon, an angry Johnson vowed to challenge Renn's decision.
"It's getting appealed," he said. "I'm not going to play these stupid games.
Renn said Johnson broke no laws by failing to obtain birth certificates and Social Security numbers for five of his children. And because all the children were healthy, Johnson didn't endanger them by never taking them to doctors or dentists, the judge reasoned.
However, Johnson had a legal obligation "to provide some kind of approved, structured education" to his children, and not merely teach them what he thought they should know.
"The children feel stigmatized that they're not in a grade commensurate of their age," Renn said.
And by exposing his children to "squalid living conditions," Johnson threatened their welfare, according to the judge.
Poverty a crime? Renn expressed concern that courts will begin "criminalizing poverty," meaning finding parents guilty of child endangerment because they don't have the financial resources to support their children.
"I have no doubt this court and other courts are going to be seeing more and more of these cases ... as safety nets dry up and go away," he said. "It's a sad commentary, perhaps, about where we are as a nation.
But that's not the case here, according to Renn, who said Johnson "purposely chose not to avail himself of any resources that might have been available to him."
Johnson speaks: Johnson took the witness stand in his own defense Tuesday, claiming his children never lived in the squalor photographed by York City Police when they searched the Johnson's family former 734 S. Duke St. home in 2009.
Johnson said he and "wife" Louann Bowers never took their children to doctors or dentists, never enrolled them in school and never got them birth certificates or Social Security numbers "because of our religious beliefs."
"We don't believe in marking our people with numbers," he said. "We don't believe in using doctors if you don't need them."
Evasive? Shown police photos by defense attorney Korey Leslie, Johnson repeatedly insisted conditions weren't as bad when his children lived in the home, but was unable to give dates of when the kids lived there or when they moved out for good.
Renn later described Johnson's testimony as evasive and said he has "serious doubts" as to Johnson's credibility.
Repeatedly throughout his testimony, Johnson stared down York City Police Inspector Dana Ward angrily and seemed to be speaking directly at the detective.
"It was a little intense," Leslie later said, but noted Johnson blames Ward for taking his children.
Daughter on stand: Three of his children have testified they lived in that squalor, including his 13-year-old daughter, who took the stand Tuesday morning.
She confirmed the home was "really messy and dirty," and that she and her siblings weren't allowed to play outside.
Asked by senior deputy prosecutor Amy Eyster whether she is the same age as her classmates, the 13-year-old looked down.
"I'd rather not talk about it," she whispered, then fought back tears.
She confirmed it's upsetting that her classmates are all younger than she is.
"It makes me feel not smart," she said.
'Filth': Also testifying Tuesday was Ward, lead detective in the case.
He told the judge he first had to determine whether the children even existed, and eventually found all five of them hiding in the bathroom of a Springettsbury Township motel on Aug. 28, 2009.
Ward testified there was no electric service, heat or running water at the home, and that it was covered with "filth and grime."
"Everything was pretty much decayed and falling apart," he said. He spotted dirty clothing, sheets and "pillowcases that were black with filth."
There was also mold and mildew throughout the building, he said, apparently caused by multiple roof leaks. Trash was scattered everywhere, according to Ward.
Condemned: The building at 734 S. Duke St. was condemned July 3, 2009, by York City fire officials, who deemed it unfit for human habitation, Ward testified.
He later determined water and electric service to the home were shut off in 2003 and that gas service was shut off gas service in 1998. All those utilities were in Johnson's name, with 734 S. Duke St. listed as his address, the detective said.
The couple's five children remain in foster care, as does their sixth child, born to Bowers in York County Prison.
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.
Gun charge: Immediately after being found guilty of child endangerment, Johnson entered a no-contest plea in an unrelated case for which he was charged with carrying a firearm without a license and driving with a suspended license.
Springettsbury Township Police filed the charges after pulling over Johnson and spotting a handgun in his truck.
Renn sentenced Johnson to a year of probation and ordered him to pay a $200 fine.
Charges in a third case -- in which he was accused of stealing leased property -- were previously dismissed.
-- Staff writer Liz Evans Scolforo can also be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.