West York 'house of horrors' case: Mom guilty, dad's plea agreement denied
A West York man accused of creating a "house of horrors" for five of his seven young children is still facing trial after he was unable to get through a guilty-plea hearing in York County Court on Monday.
The mother of those children, Janay Fountain, did plead guilty Monday and was sentenced.
Neither parent will get the children back, senior deputy prosecutor Erin Kraska said.
"Their parental rights ... were terminated with regard to the children — all seven of them," she said.
Charles Benjamin, 73, was expected to plead guilty to multiple felony counts of aggravated assault and child endangerment, Kraska confirmed.
In exchange, he was to be given a sentence of time served to 23 months in York County Prison, plus five years' probation. Benjamin has so far spent about six months locked up on the case; he had been released on bail at one point, but that was revoked in September because he violated bail conditions.
No admission of guilt: At Monday's hearing, presiding Common Pleas Judge Harry M. Ness asked Benjamin to explain what he had done to make him guilty of the charges to which he was pleading, Kraska confirmed.
"He said he didn't do anything wrong to those kids, basically," she said. "He gave some halfhearted explanation that they were acting bad and he disciplined them."
Benjamin told the judge he punished the children after they poured Chex cereal down the toilet and stole ice cream, the prosecutor said.
Ness refused to accept the guilty plea because Benjamin didn't admit to assaulting or endangering his children, Kraska said. The judge set Benjamin's trial for May, according to court records.
Defense attorney Clarence Allen, who represents Benjamin, confirmed his client maintained in court that he didn't do anything criminal to the children.
Asked whether he intends to secure his client a second chance to plead guilty, Allen said he will try.
"Judge Ness as of now said no second bite (at the apple). We're going to try to persuade the court (otherwise)," Allen said. "If the judge says 'no,' we're, as of today, preparing for trial."
'Substantial' prison time: Kraska said if Benjamin is convicted of his felony offenses, he is potentially facing substantial state prison time.
The couple lived in the 1300 block of West Market Street with their seven children — ages 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 and twin infants — when all seven children were taken into protective custody Feb. 6, 2019, by the York County Office of Children, Youth and Families.
The five older children all suffered abuse in the home, prosecutors maintain.
Fountain, 26, pleaded guilty Monday to five counts of child endangerment, all second-degree felonies, for failing to protect her children. She was sentenced to 338 days to 23 months in York County Prison, which is a time-served sentence.
She was not accused of assaulting her children.
She also was ordered to have no contact with Benjamin or their children, as well as no unsupervised contact with any minors, court records state. Fountain must undergo a mental-health evaluation and comply with recommended treatment, records state.
'House of horrors': West York Police Chief Matt Millsaps has said Benjamin's home "was literally a house of horrors for these children."
Benjamin is accused of beating the five older children with a wooden board, a belt and a curtain rod — assaults police allege left the children with scars and bruises. He also allegedly kicked some of them while wearing boots, court documents allege.
Benjamin is also accused of choking one of the children and holding the heads of at least two of them underwater in a bathtub, according to court documents.
Benjamin locked the children, in smaller groups, in a room with no bathroom — forcing them to relieve themselves on the floor, according to allegations in court documents, which state the floor was soaked in urine.
Some of the children indicated they were locked in a room during the day and weren't let out until after dark, according to Millsaps.
Police have said they found feces behind a radiator in that room, adding it appeared the children had to relieve themselves in the room because Benjamin wouldn't let them out to use the bathroom.
Millsaps has said that before being taken into protective custody, the older children had never been to school and had limited access to the outside world.
A forensic registered nurse from York Hospital testified at Benjamin's April 3 preliminary hearing that there were multiple scars and bruising on the children's bodies.
She called it "overwhelming to see."
— Reach senior crime reporter Liz Evans Scolforo at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @LizScolforoYD.