KNOXVILLE (WATE) - A Knox County stepmother was sentenced Friday after being convicted of aggravated child abuse and reckless endangerment.
Jessica Ann Cox, 40, was sentenced to 24 years in prison.
"Two young men went through horrible, extended, lengthy periods of torture, injury - not just one but two," Jude Bob McGee told a Knox County court.
In March, a jury convicted Cox of 23 counts of aggravated child abuse and one count of reckless endangerment. Judge McGee imposed a maximum sentence on Friday of 12 years for each child she abused, who were then 16 and 14 years old.
At the hearing, Cox faced the stepsons she abused.
"You took away my childhood, delayed my education and prevented me from having friends but most of all you took away my peace and serenity," Justin McIntosh, now 17, said. "I still suffer from PTSD, insomnia, nightmares, and flashbacks to my days of abuse."
Austin McIntosh, the elder brother who bore the brunt of the abuse, recounted the way their stepmother handcuffed them beat them, tortured them and even starved them.
"I was kicked, punched, knocked unconscious at the mercy of Jessica," he said. "If we were too bruised, we would stay home from school. However, when we missed too much of school, we would wear long sleeve shirts and long sleeve pants to school to cover our secrets."
Cox also shared some words ahead of her sentencing, even saying she was sorry. She also said she feels a great deal of shame and guilt for what she did.
"Austin and Justin, I pray so desperately that, in time, God will heal and soften your hearts toward me and you will remember the good times," Cox said.
But her apology did not receive sympathy from Judge McGee, who said Cox's life was primarily one of violence, dishonesty, and substance abuse.
Her stepsons told the court that they are using their painful past as a force for good, even saying that the abuse they endured made them stronger.
"Although you didn't know it, you shaped me into the person I am today," Austin McIntosh said. "Your monstrous behavior has taught me well."
On May 28, 2013, Cox's two stepsons escaped from their home at 834 Canton Hollow Road where they had been handcuffed to a kitchen cabinet.
The then 14- and 16-year-old victims walked to Farragut High School where school custodians called 911 and the boys were taken to East Tennessee Children's Hospital.
The children say Cox and their biological father handcuffed them, deprived them of food and struck them with items like mallets and rolling pins. Also, they say they were submerged in ice baths and forced to kneel on uncooked rice.
Ahead of the sentencing, Cox's mother testified before the court, blaming drug addiction for her daughter's abuse of her stepsons. Cox is not eligible for parole due to the nature of the crime.
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