Diane and Matthew Waldmiller were supposed to be a lifeline for their foster children, a judge told them Friday, someone to save them from their troubled upbringings.

They were supposed to provide a home and stability that the children did not have, 2nd District Judge Michael DiReda said, and had been trained by the state as trusted child caretakers.

Instead, the Waldmillers engaged in what the judge deemed incomprehensible abuse: The three boys were restrained with zip ties, and at times had their mouths, ears or eyes covered with duct tape. They were locked in a dark room with restricted access to food, and slept on bare mattresses on the floor.

“I can’t even visualize it,” DiReda told the couple at the Friday sentencing hearing. “Taping their heads just flies in the face of common sense and reasoning, and just basic human decency.”

Courtesy | Weber County Sheriff's Office Matthew Waldmiller

The couple could have asked for help, DiReda said, but instead abused the boys and left them emotionally damaged.

And for that, the judge ordered the Waldmillers would pay a hefty price, sentencing each to serve a one-to-15 year term at the Utah State Prison.

The couple in August pleaded guilty to second-degree felony child abuse. Their attorneys had asked the judge for a sentence of just a few months in jail, saying the couple was overwhelmed by the difficult behavior of the three children. The judge disagreed, saying jail time was too lenient for such severe abuse.

As he looked at a photo of the three boys, DiReda said they were normal kids, full of energy and enthusiasm, who looked like the type of boys who probably wrestled each other and fought and made noise. To him, they looked like “little angels,” the judge said, adding that he could understand how the couple could be so cruel to them.

“I’m afraid for their future and what it looks like,” the judge said. “ … It’s incredibly unfair to me that a child should have to carry these types of burdens into adulthood.”

The Waldmillers both gave tearful apologies in court before they were sentenced. After his attorney revealed that Matthew Waldmiller has been abused himself as a child, the 39-year-old man wept as he told the judge that he wished he would have done things differently.

“Nothing makes what I did OK,” he said. “All the stuff that happened to me doesn’t make it OK. Bottom line is, I did it and I’m sorry. If I could turn back time and not do it, I would.”

Diane Waldmiller, 40, also expressed regret, saying she wished the abuse had never happened.

“I wish that my boys will be healthy,” she said, “and find homes that will love them, and be able to recover from this, because I know how much it did affect them.”

The couple abused the three children — ages 7, 10 and 11 — from last November through March, according to charging documents.

An anonymous complaint filed March 17 sent a case worker from the state Division of Child and Family Services to the couple’s Roy home, near 5800 South and 2400 West, on March 22. The case worker told police that in the boys’ room, there was no light bulb in the light fixture, the heat vent had been covered “so that no ventilation entered the room,” and the room’s only outside window had been painted black and “screwed shut so it would not open.”

The bedroom door locked from the outside, the case worker said, and the children told him they were locked in the room nightly, their hands secured with zip ties, faces covered in tape and diapers fitted to the two younger boys.

The children told the case worker that they had sneak out “through their window to ‘dumpster dive’ at a local elementary school to get food,” documents state.

During an interview at the Ogden Children’s Justice Center, the 7-year-old said the Waldmillers had placed tape over his eyes, mouth and hands “300 times,” according to documents. He said his hands had been zip-tied multiple times, which caused bruising on his wrists.

The 10-year-old disclosed that the parents required him to perform physical exercises to earn food. He said if he cried, his clothing was thrown away. He told interviewers that his younger brother’s wrists would be tied by both parents “for safety.”

The Waldmillers’ defense attorneys said Friday that the windows and doors were locked because the three boys were leaving the home at night and stealing from the neighbors.

“They were trying to deal with a situation that, frankly, they weren’t qualified to deal with,” defense attorney Michael Bouwhuis said, noting that there was a fourth child in the home that was not abused.

The couple also had custody of a 2-year-old girl at that time, according to Roy police.