A Modesto father and stepmother accused of beating their 3-year-old girl close to death pleaded guilty Thursday to a host of child abuse charges that will put them behind bars for more than 11 years.
Prosecutor Nate Baker called it "one of the most serious cases of physical abuse" he had seen in a decade of prosecuting crimes against children.
Terry and Chandy Indula originally faced torture charges that could have sent them to prison for life.
They told police they beat the 3-year-old and her 5-year-old sister with electrical cords and a broomstick. The younger girl spent six weeks in a hospital recovering from life-threatening head injuries and suffered permanent burn scars, prosecutors said.
But to prove torture, Baker said, prosecutors would have faced the difficult task of showing the Indulas derived pleasure from beating the children rather than merely doing so as punishment.
Defense attorney Frank Carson called the case one of "substandard parenting," saying the Indulas were not sadistic monsters who enjoyed beating the girls.
"There was never any torture or mayhem," Carson said, adding, "It's a regrettable situation."
The Indulas pleaded guilty to five felonies Thursday, including mayhem, child abuse and inflicting corporal injury on a child. They admitted an enhancement of causing great bodily injury and gave up their rights to appeal their conviction.
Stanislaus County Superior Court Judge Nancy Ashley sentenced the Indulas to 13 years and four months in prison, the maximum sentence for the five charges. They must serve at least 85 percent of their prison sentence.
Terry and Chandy Indula, both 30, are being held in lieu of $1 million and $250,000 bail, respectively.
The judge is set to formally sentence the Indulas to prison June 17, when the children and their foster parents may testify, prosecutor Elaine Casillas said.
The Indulas called 911 about 1 p.m. Nov. 11, 2006, because the 3-year-old was not breathing. She was airlifted to Children's Hospital & Research Center Oakland, where she underwent two surgeries and remained at the hospital for six weeks.
A doctor told the court the little girl had too many bruises and cuts to count, along with permanent burn marks on the backs of her thighs.
When the eldest girl was questioned about the beating that sent her younger sister to the hospital, she told an investigator that "bad daddy" and "bad mommy" hit the children with belts and wires, according to a video played in court.
The child had just turned 6 when she participated in a specialized interview with a child advocate in Fresno. She said her little sister lay face down and unclothed as her father and his wife delivered blow after blow.
Investigators interviewed the Indulas separately over a 10-hour stretch that included two visits to their home in west Modesto.
Terry Indula said he punished his daughters by hitting them with a variety of objects, including electrical cords and a broomstick.
Modesto police Detective Eric Jones said Chandy Indula told investigators her husband hit his daughters because they reminded him of his first wife.
Chandy Indula also talked of "whooping" the older girl with a cord, Jones said, but said she stopped because she knew it was wrong. She told the detective she did not intervene when Terry Indula disciplined his daughters.
About the burn mark allegations, Chandy Indula told investigators she placed a 2-liter soda bottle, filled with hot water and wrapped in a towel, in the girls' bed because the heating system in the home didn't work. She said she had a similar bottle in her bed.
Bee staff writer Merrill Balassone can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 578-2337.