By David Beasley
ATLANTA (Reuters) - The mother and stepfather of a Georgia teenager who ended up at a Los Angeles bus terminal last September and told police he had suffered from long-term abuse and starvation were each sentenced to 15 years in prison on Thursday after pleading guilty to cruelty charges.
Mitch Comer, 18, was so pale and gaunt when he turned up in Los Angeles that police thought he was only 12 or 13. A grand jury in Paulding County, Georgia, later charged that his mother and stepfather had endangered his health by confining him to a room within their home and denying him medical care.
The mother, Sheila Marie Comer, 40, and stepfather, Paul Matthew Comer, 48, both pleaded guilty on Thursday to child cruelty and false imprisonment charges, said Renee Rockwell, attorney for Sheila Comer.
They had faced more than 100 years in prison each if they had been convicted at trial, Rockwell said.
Comer told police that after removing him from school in the eighth grade, his stepfather shut him in a room and fed him only small amounts of food. When he turned 18, his stepfather gave him $200 and put him on a bus with a list of homeless shelters he had located on the Internet.
Rockwell described the family as deeply religious and said when she visited the couple's home shortly after their arrest in September, "there was plenty of food in the house."
Paulding County District Attorney Dick Donovan said little of that food was given to Mitch Comer. "He lived on cereal," Donovan said.
The Los Angeles police who encountered Mitch Comer said he was just over 5 feet tall and weighed only 87 pounds (39 kg).
Avoiding a trial will allow Mitch Comer and his two sisters to be spared from having to "relive the horrors that they went through," Donovan said.
Donovan told Reuters he had no explanation for the way the couple treated Mitch Comer.
"I don't know what makes people mean like that," he said. "I just know that they are."
As part of the plea agreement, the Comers' assets will be sold and the money placed in a trust, with half going to Mitch Comer and the remaining half to his two younger sisters when they turn 25, Rockwell said.
She described the couple's assets as "substantial." Paul Comer had a ninth-grade education but was a successful appliance repairman, the attorney for his wife said.
(Editing by Colleen Jenkins and Leslie Adler)