The Maryland couple pleaded guilty earlier this week to child neglect charges and were sentenced to probation
A Maryland couple who ran a controversial YouTube channel where they posted prank videos involving their blended family of five kids pleaded guilty earlier this week to child neglect charges and were sentenced to probation, PEOPLE confirms.
Heather and Michael Martin, of Ijamsville, Maryland, entered Alford pleas to two counts each of misdemeanor child neglect, according to prosecutors.
Defendants who enter an Alford plea do not admit committing a crime but acknowledge that there is enough evidence for a conviction.
The misdemeanor neglect charges stem from YouTube videos on their “DaddyOFive” channel showing Heather and Michael pranking two of their youngest children, Emma and Cody, who authorities said were 11 and 9 at the time, respectively.
Many viewers slammed the parents’ stunts as abusive.
On Monday, after their pleas, Heather and Michael were sentenced to a consecutive five years on each count, or 10 years total, but the term was suspended in lieu of five years’ probation for each, according to prosecutor Lindell Angel.
Describing the Martins “remorseful,” Angel says the prosecution is satisfied with the outcome.
“I think the resolution was fair for everyone involved,” says Angel, the chief of the family violence and sexual assault unit at the state’s attorney’s office in Frederick County, Maryland.
“It does what we need to do to protect Cody and Emma,” who are Michael’s biological kids with his ex-girlfriend,” Angel says.
“The evaluations that were conducted of Heather and Mike, obviously their judgement was somewhat warped in participating in these videos. But there wasn’t any intent — malicious intent to damage the children,” Angel says.
“We want [the Martins] to be successful in probation and better parents to their children,” she says, noting that at some point in the future Heather and Michael could be reunited with Cody and Emma, who are now in foster care.
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A neuropsychologist who worked with Frederick County Child Protective Services during the investigation determined that both children suffered from “mental injury because of the videotaping incidents and what went on during the videos,” Angel says.
That mental injury — not evidence of physical abuse — was the basis for the neglect charges.
The couple’s three other kids, who are Heather’s biological children from a previous relationship, were not part of the investigation and “were not found to be suffering from any mental injury,” Angel says.
In July, Frederick County prosecutors charged Heather and Michael each with two counts of neglect of a minor, alleging that the couple neglected Cody and Emma between November 2016 and April 2017.
The Martins faced up to five years in prison per count and a $5,000 fine.
“My hopes are that these parents and parents who watch these videos are just going to be more sensitive to how what they do might impact their children,” Angel says.
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As part of their probation, the Martins will have no contact with Cody and Emma unless approved by a court, Angel says. They are also not allowed to film the kids for posting on social media.
The couple’s controversial videos have since been taken off YouTube. But they showed Heather and Michael destroying the children’s belongings and berating and swearing at them until they cried. The Martins have since resumed posting YouTube videos only of themselves, under the name “MommyOFive.”
After the hearing on Monday, defense attorney Stephen Tully, who represented both Heather and Michael, told the Baltimore Sun that his clients have learned to “be careful” when it comes to children and social media.
“We’re in a new era with social media,” Tully, who could not be reached for comment, told local TV station WTOP.
“They have to learn the things that are appropriate and not appropriate, particularly with children.”