The former Mt. Airy, Georgia, officer and his wife adopted four children in 2004 and forced them to endure years of torture, confined to a small room with boarded up windows, and only fed cold scraps of the couple’s leftovers. The children say they were beaten, molested, and tortured during their time with the Burtons and still carry emotional and physical scars from the abuse.
"Getting hit in the head with a wooden paddle, being swung around the room, throwing us on the walls — we had to stand upside down on the corner on our heads," one of the boys told WFMY. "We had to eat noodles and they would put leftover food that they didn't want into our pot of noodles…We didn't have warm food, it was cold from the refrigerator."
Eight long years after their adoption, the children were finally rescued from the house of horrors when one escaped in 2012 and went to the police. The couple was initially charged with 28 counts of abuse, but in a shocking deal they pleaded guilty to only four counts of child cruelty.
Thanks to this deal, the couple will avoid a felony criminal record and Richard Burton will not be added to the sex offender registry. The couple was sentenced to 10 years in prison, but will only serve 50 days — 25 consecutive weekends — in prison. The rest of their sentence will be served on probation.
To make the case even more shocking, Chief Assistant District Attorney Eddie Staples has admitted that the light sentence is partly due to Burton’s career in law enforcement.
"The witness list for the defense included law enforcement officers from this community," Staples told WFMY. "Those are the people we go into court everyday and tell the jurors, 'These are credible people.' And they were going to come and testify to Richard Burton particularly, but the Burtons' good character."
Habersham County law enforcement made headlines last year when a SWAT team threw a flash-bang grenade into a toddler’s crib while raiding a home in search of a suspect who was not there. The grenade blew parts of the 19-month-old’s face off and exposed the bones in his chest. The child spent weeks in a medically induced coma, and the settlement provided by the department will not cover the medical expenses despite their nearly fatal error.