OREGON CITY, Ore. -- A judge rejected a plea for mercy from the father of an 8-year-old girl beaten to death by members of his religious group, sentencing four of his followers to 20 years in prison for a crime he said was 'intolerable ... indefensible and quite frankly unimaginable.'
Despite the tearful plea from Ecclesia Athletic Association founder Eldridge Broussard Jr., Clackamas County Circuit Judge John Lowe sentenced the four Thursday to the maximum term for first-degree manslaughter.
Broussard was not involved in the beatings that killed his daughter, Dayna, last fall at the group's farmhouse east of Portland.
The Ecclesia Athletic Association is a religious organization that maintains strict discipline in an effort to educate children and get them away from crime-ridden, south-central Los Angeles. The group maintained two Oregon farmhouses as training centers, where rigorous training of youngsters worried many neighbors.
Testimony during the 3-week trial indicated the girl was struck several hundred times during a discipline session in front of more than 50 other children. The child also was beaten the night before because she had stolen food from another child.
Hours after the fatal beating, the state Children's Services Division took 53 Ecclesia children into protective custody, and most remain in foster care.
Willie Chambers, 35; Brian Brinson, 32; Constance Jackson, 38; and Frederick Doolittle, 28, were convicted May 12 of beating the little girl to death.
The judge varied the minimum time each defendant must serve before being eligible for parole according to the defendants' degree of involvement. Chambers, whom several children testified delivered most of the blows using items such as a bamboo rod, plastic pipe, hose and weightlifter's belt, will not be eligible for 10 years.
'Your actions are intolerable ... indefensible and quite frankly, unimaginable,' the judge said to Chambers.
Jackson will be eligible for parole in seven years. Witnesses said Jackson struck, bit and kicked the girl after the child bit her.
'Dayna Broussard showed more courage biting your leg than a prisoner of war shows spitting in the face of the enemy,' the judge told Jackson.
Brinson and Doolittle could be paroled in 40 months. Attorneys for the four said appeals are planned.
Broussard, who was in Los Angeles when his daughter was killed, did not testify during the trial, but took the stand Thursday and spoke for 20 minutes, breaking into tears as he talked of his daughter. He was allowed to testify under a law that allows victims or their families to say how they believe defendants should be sentenced.
Broussard said he has been investigating the case and knows more about it than anyone. Near tears, he said, 'I am here to beg the court to please release these people until such time that the appeal comes.'
Broussard also claimed prosecutors had coerced and coached children who served as witnesses. He said their stories have changed and they are now telling Ecclesia members different versions of what took place.
'We are going to see that the real story of our daughter is told,' Broussard said. 'It did not get out in the courtroom.'
Broussard repeated his claim that unfair, inaccurate media portrayals of his group as a type of cult caused withdrawl of financial help that added to the pressures on staff members.
Three more Ecclesia members are scheduled to go on trial next mnth on charges of criminal mistreatement in connection with the beatings of other children in the group.