RIVERHEAD, N.Y. -- A judge who lamented he could not legally impose a stiffer sentence gave the maximum two-year jail term Wednesday to a woman who abused her seven children and tortured and killed dozens of family pets, sometimes in the presence of the children, burying animal carcasses in her suburban Long Island backyard.
Sharon McDonough, 44, pleaded guilty last month to animal abuse and child endangerment charges after authorities said she created what her son called "a concentration camp for the animals" in her Selden, N.Y., home. It was that adult son, Douglas McDonough, who turned in his mother to authorities in 2009.
Neither he nor his six younger sisters attended the sentencing in Suffolk County Court, but Assistant District Attorney John Cortes read a pre-sentencing letter that Douglas McDonough sent to the judge. The girls, all younger than 13 when their mother was arrested, are now in foster care.
"As one who has witnessed his `mother' choke the life out of a living animal and physically and emotionally abuse and destroy her own children, I know what she is capable of doing," said McDonough's letter, a copy of which prosecutors provided to reporters after the proceeding. "I fear for my well-being, my sisters and my six-month old child. She has already destroyed us to a certain point."
Suffolk County Court Judge C. Randall Hinrichs issued a permanent order of protection, requiring McDonough to stay away from her children when she is released. Because McDonough was held on $100,000 bail in the county jail since her arrest in 2009, the sentence with time off for good behavior means she should be released as soon as mid-April, prosecutors and her attorney said.
"The penal law is inadequate to adequately address the true magnitude of the actions here," Hinrichs said before imposing sentence. He said he agreed with prosecutors who described McDonough's actions as "sinister, barbaric and evil."
Court-appointed attorney Christopher Brocato said McDonough understands she will not be welcome in her old neighborhood, a proposition that is largely moot because her home is in foreclosure.
Brocato insisted during the sentencing that McDonough still loves her children. "I know that may seem, on the surface, hard to believe, but she does," the attorney told the judge.
Brocato said afterward that his client is "overwhelmed with grief and guilt." He said he spoke on her behalf because she was emotionally distraught.
The attorney also noted that McDonough had been in an abusive marriage and was suffering from depression. McDonough's husband was killed in a car accident in 2008.
Prosecutors said McDonough killed numerous kittens and dogs, stashing the dead cats in the trash, and burying 42 dead dogs in the backyard of her home. 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 also forced to witness the deaths of family pets. They lived amid the animals that were kept in wretched cages filled with urine and feces. McDonough acknowledged once placing duct tape over the mouth of a cat and hanging it from the ladder of a daughter's bunk bed until it died.
Cortes also noted that the children were barred from using a bathroom in the home and were forced to defecate and urinate in buckets. She also said the children were not allowed to take showers and cleaned themselves with cloth wipes.