On March 9, Paula Sinclair, 55, was sentenced to 35 years in the Texas Department of Criminal Justice – Institutional Division (TDCJ – ID) after entering a plea of guilty on four first-degree felony charges for injury to a child-causing serious bodily injury.
The sentence in each case will run concurrently. Chad Bridges, Presiding Judge of the 240th District Court, heard the case.
Sinclair’s criminal conduct first came to the attention of authorities just prior to Thanksgiving in 2016 when an investigator employed by the Texas Department of Family Services – Child Protection Services (CPS) entered the home owned and occupied by Paula Sinclair and her husband, and discovered seven children locked in a single upstairs bedroom. Further investigation revealed that the children, who were between 13 and 17 years old at the time, were all adopted by Sinclair and her previous husband when the children were toddlers, along with an eighth child who died in 2011 while in the care of the Sinclair and her current husband.
Following the discovery of the children, Sgt. Tim Morris with the Fort Bend County Sheriff’s Office Special Crimes Unit was contacted and a criminal investigation began. Morris’ team, led by Det. Juliana Johnson, obtained and executed a search warrant for the residence where the children were found. Johnson observed and documented the deplorable conditions of the children’s bedroom, including a strong odor of urine and feces, missing carpet and exposed metal carpet tacks on the floor, and a toilet that did not work. Johnson further noted that the handles to the bedroom door and the bedroom closet door had been removed and replaced with single key deadbolt locks that could only be unlocked from the outside.
Once the children were safely removed from the defendant’s residence, trained forensic interviewers employed by the Children’s Advocacy Center of Fort Bend interviewed them. During the interviews, the children revealed Sinclair subjected them to extreme physical and mental abuse. The children disclosed being beaten with a bat, belt and wooden rod in addition to having their hands and feet bound with duct tape before being placed inside the locked bedroom closet for lengthy periods of time.
The children described being fed twice daily with meals that consisted of rice and beans. They also explained they had never attended school or been given access to any type of educational materials.
Medical records obtained during the investigation revealed the children suffered from various degrees of malnutrition. As the case progressed, prosecutors obtained additional medical and psychological evidence that indicated the children had suffered permanent, serious bodily injuries and mental impairment as a result of the long-term mental and physical abuse they suffered. The thorough and extensive investigation ultimately led to the arrest and charging of Sinclair for multiple first-degree felony offenses related to the severe physical and mental abuse she inflicted on the children.
Prosecutors Jenna Rudoff, Melissa Munoz, and Terese Buess, each assigned to the District Attorney’s Office Child Abuse Division, handled the case on behalf of the state. They all agreed it is one of the most heartbreaking cases any of them have ever seen or handled.
“Hopefully harsh sentences for these types of crimes will send a message of zero tolerance for the mistreatment of children and that failing to provide a child with the basic needs of food and safe living conditions will result in harsh punishment. That a parent could so grossly abuse a child, depriving them of food and nutrition to the point of causing serious bodily injury and mental impairment is outrageous,” Rudoff said.
“The facts of this case are horrendous. The one person a child should be able to rely upon to protect him or her is the child’s mother. Paula Sinclair abused, exploited and starved her children for her own personal gain. She imprisoned them in their own home and treated them like animals. She deserves to spend every minute, every hour, and every day of the 35-year sentence she received in prison. Anyone who is familiar with the facts of this case feels very strongly about them,” said Munoz.
The children were present in court for the plea and three of them gave statements to the defendant following sentencing. Prosecutor Terese Buess, who helped prepare some of the children to testify in the event of a trial, said, “these children are our heroes. They took care of one another as best as they could under absolutely unimaginable circumstances. We all have so much to learn from their amazing spirits.”
Houston attorney Don Hecker represented the defendant. Sinclair will not be eligible for parole until she has served at least half of her sentence because of the aggravated nature of the offenses as defined under Texas law.
District Attorney John Healey noted that, “Many people are responsible for the successful resolution of the cases against Paula Sinclair. I commend the brave CPS investigator who was the first to encounter this shocking situation and the dedicated detectives who responded and secured critical evidence. Deserving of praise are the original prosecutors who worked on the case and who advised the detectives throughout the investigation, the arrests, and the grand jury presentation of the evidence against the perpetrator, until the case was handed over to the current prosecutors.
“The team of most recent prosecutors met with the children, their doctors and caregivers, and developed a battle plan for trial, all of which resulted in this strong settlement which protects the people of our county and these children. A large debt of gratitude is owed by all concerned to the Children’s Advocacy Center in Fort Bend whose interviewers obtained vital information from the fragile children. The children’s rescue culminated in wonderful people and organizations working together to heal and protect these children including the doctors who initially treated the children, our local CASA representatives, and the devoted caregivers and therapists who continue to nurture and protect them to this day.
“Crimes such as these reveal the evil that exists in some individuals. Thank God this ugliness is countered by the humanity and compassionate dedication of all who worked tirelessly, and those who are still working, to protect these precious children,” Healey said.
First degree injury to a child by act or by omission is punishable by 5 to 99 years or life in prison and a fine up to $10,000.