RIVERHEAD, N.Y. — A woman tearfully admitted Thursday that she abused her children and dozens of pets, sometimes torturing dogs and cats to death in the presence of six young daughters in a home that her son described as "a concentration camp for the animals."
Sharon McDonough, 44, pleaded guilty to a 13-count indictment charging her with animal abuse and child endangerment.
Suffolk County Court Judge C. Randall Hinrichs said he would sentence McDonough on March 28 to a two-year maximum term. McDonough has been held on $100,000 bail since her arrest in December 2009; the time she has served will count toward her sentence and she is expected to be freed in April or May.
Court-appointed defense attorney Christopher Brocato said McDonough pleaded guilty to all the charges to save her children from having to testify at her trial. "She knows there's no excuse," Brocato said. "I can't imagine she's going to be a welcome sight in the community when she gets out. She knows she's going to be an outcast forever."
Of McDonough's possible explanation for her actions or her mental state, Brocato said: "She's had some issues in her life. I'm not a psychiatrist, but she's tormented by what happened and is willing to take the blame."
He noted that McDonough's husband was killed in a car accident in 2008. He added that his office and prosecutors collectively have received about 200 "hate mail" messages condemning McDonough's actions.
No members of her family, including her six daughters, attended the hearing. The girls, all younger than 13 when McDonough was arrested, are in the custody of Family Court; prosecutors said they are prevented by law from discussing their current status.
Assistant District Attorney John Cortes said he will ask the judge to issue an order of protection when she is sentenced, requiring McDonough to not contact the children after her release.
McDonough killed numerous kittens and dogs, stashing the dead cats in the trash, and burying 42 dead dogs in the backyard of her home in Selden on New York's Long Island, prosecutors said. The dogs were buried because some had identifying microchips implanted in them and McDonough feared being discovered if the carcasses were found in the trash, they said.
The children were not only abused, but were forced to witness the deaths of family pets. They lived amid filthy conditions from the animals who were kept in wretched cages that were filled with urine and feces, the prosecutor said.
She admitted in one instance to placing duct tape over the mouth of a cat and hanging it from the ladder of one her daughter's bunk beds until it died.
The children were barred from using a bathroom in the home and were forced to defecate and urinate in buckets, McDonough admitted in court Thursday. She also said the children were not allowed to take showers and cleaned themselves with cloth wipes.
Prosecutors said they were alerted to the conditions at the home by McDonough's adult son, Douglas, who had moved out.
He told authorities the children were forced to subsist on peanut butter-and-jelly sandwiches and macaroni and cheese. At one point, he brought his sisters frozen TV dinners but later learned that his mother had confiscated the food.
He described the home as "a concentration camp for the animals."
McDonough faces two years on the animal cruelty charges, but only a one-year term for the child endangerment offenses because they are misdemeanors, prosecutors said.
"For the past five years, we have urged state lawmakers to approve legislation that would make child endangerment a felony," Suffolk County District Attorney Thomas Spota said in a statement.
"She repeatedly terrified her six daughters by torturing and killing animals in their presence and that crime should be a felony punishable by imprisonment in an upstate correctional facility."