An Idaho couple found guilty of starving their adopted daughter to the brink of death will not face prison time, according to a recent ruling. Last week, Judge Darla Williamson sentenced Byron and Gwendalyn Buthman to four years of probation and 300 hours of community service, citing concerns that jail time would negatively impact the four other children they have adopted.
The judge also withheld judgment, meaning that if the couple adheres to the terms of their probation, their conviction may be vacated. This decision reportedly surprised some in the courtroom.
In June 2022, the Buthmans were convicted for mistreating their young adopted daughter, who suffered neglect and abuse between the ages of 3 and 6. The couple forced the child to eat a vegetable powder substance as her only source of nutrition and sleep in a laundry room without bedding.
The girl gave a testimony in which she addmitted that she was so hungry, she resorted to eating toilet paper when locked in the bathroom.
The child’s severe malnourishment and exposure to cold temperatures wearing only a diaper led to her going into cardiac arrest in October 2017. Although she survived the incident, the abuse reportedly continued.
Prosecutors argued that the case was nearly a homicide.
It was found that the Buthmans were guilty of felony injury to a child and a misdemeanor charge of injury to a child. They were arrested in 2019.
Judge Williamson opted for a lighter sentence, believing that additional jail time would have adverse effects on the couple’s other adopted children. She also questioned whether the Buthmans intentionally malnourished their daughter, a claim prosecutors refuted.
The judge noted that the couple did not fit the profile of typical criminals she encounters in court, and suggested that imprisoning them would only serve to send a message to the public. Williamson expressed confidence that the Buthmans would stay out of trouble and continue to care for their other children, although they are now barred from fostering additional children.
The couple has faced “substantial penalties” outside the legal system, according to the judge. Byron lost his job as a nurse, and Gwendalyn may never regain her teaching certificate.
During the trial, Gwendalyn tearfully expressed her love for her children, calling them her “pride and joy.”
However, the victim stated that she wanted her former adoptive parents to face jail time to prevent others from suffering the same abuse. She is now 11 years old and living with another family.
The Buthmans are prohibited from contacting the victim for the next 30 years.