The couple behind the controversial "DaddyOFive" YouTube channel were sentenced to five years of probation on charges of child neglect in Frederick County Circuit Court on Monday.
Michael and Heather Martin of Ijamsville entered Alford pleas to two counts of child neglect each — charges that stem from "prank" videos that caused a viral outcry from viewers who thought they amounted to child abuse. Under their Alford pleas, the Martins maintain their innocence while acknowledging that prosecutors have enough evidence to win a conviction.
Frederick County Assistant State's Attorney Lindy Angel said that an investigation into the Martins began in April after "various sources" alerted the Frederick County Sheriff's Office to Michael Martin's YouTube channel, "DaddyOFive." In more than 300 now-deleted videos, the Martins were seen destroying an Xbox, and berating and cursing at two of their five children. In other videos, Michael Martin is seen pushing his son Cody Martin into a bookcase, giving him a bloody nose and ordering one of his stepsons to slap his daughter, Emma Martin, in what he deemed a game.
Angel said that a neuropsychologist who worked with Frederick County Child Protective Services during the investigation found that 11-year-old Emma and 10-year-old Cody Martin, the biological children of Michael Martin and the stepchildren of Heather Martin, had experienced "observable, identifiable and substantial impairments of their mental or psychological ability to function."
"It became correlated directly to the behavior and actions of the defendants, the Martins," Angel said.
The couple's three other kids — Heather Martin's biological children and Michael Martin's stepchildren — were not a part of the investigation.
The Martins received a five-year suspended sentence for each charge. Frederick County Circuit Judge Theresa M. Adams ruled that, under the terms of the couple's probation, the Martins could not have contact with Emma, Cody or the children's biological mother, Rose Hall, unless permitted by a court. Adams also said the Martins cannot post video recordings or images of Emma and Cody to social media unless it is for legitimate family purposes, and that the couple should submit evaluations and adhere to mental health treatment as advised by their supervising agent.
Represented by defense attorney Stephen R. Tully, Michael Martin and a teary-eyed Heather Martin entered the courtroom around 10:45 a.m. Michael Martin handed her a box of tissues.
When asked by Adams if he had anything he'd like to say, Michael Martin replied, "No, ma'am." The couple left soon after the hearing ended.
Hall and her attorney, Tim Conlon, also were present at the hearing.
"She's glad the case has ended, disappointed with the sentence," Conlon said.
Tully said after the hearing that he thought the ruling brought justice to all parties. He said what the Martins displayed in their videos was negligent, but not intentional, and that they've learned to "be careful with children and social media."
Tully said he will file a motion soon asking the judge to consider dismissing or reducing the sentences and/or expunging charges from their records should the Martins abide by the conditions of their probation. If the Martins violate their probation, they could face up to 10 years in prison, but Tully said he felt "comfortable" that the Martins would adhere to the terms.
Angel said she also was pleased with the results of the hearing.
"When we began the investigation, I don't think anyone was certain there was criminal [activity]," she said, but the psychologist's reports made the state pursue neglect charges.
"I think everyone's interests are served, both the Martins as defendants and the state's interest in protecting the children," she said. "I think it was a fair result for everyone."