A Pennsylvania woman who held multiple people, some with mental disabilities, captive in "subhuman" conditions for a decade was sentenced to life in prison on Thursday.
In 2011, a landlord found four adults locked inside a boiler room in a northeast Philadelphia home. One man was chained to a boiler, The Associated Press reports.
Investigators learned that Linda Weston and four other people -- one of whom was her daughter, Jean McIntosh -- began holding captives in 2001 in order to fraudulently obtain disability and state benefits, and found victims in various locations around Pennsylvania, Texas, Virginia and Florida. The investigation became known as the "Basement of Horrors" case.
Weston and her co-conspirators often held the victims in dark basements, closets or attics, drugging them with depressants, isolating them and depriving them of food and water. They often beat, burned or stabbed captives who tried to escape or fight back. Victims even begged authorities not to rescue them because they were afraid of facing punishment later, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer.
Weston and the others also forced victims to eat their own -- or each other’s -- waste when there wasn’t enough food to go around, victims testified.
Tamara Breeden, 33, told the court she had to drink her own urine for 10 years.
"She was just crazy," she said about Weston. "I was sad and crying."
In all, Weston and her group victimized six disabled adults and four children, according to the Department of Justice. Two of the adult victims died in captivity -- one in 2005 and one in 2008. In both cases, Weston ordered people to move the bodies before reporting the deaths.
One of the child victims was Weston’s own niece, 23-year-old Beatrice Weston, who was put into her aunt’s custody when she was 10 years old. She said her aunt beat her, knocked her teeth out with a bat and forced her into prostitution.
The niece sued the city of Philadelphia and a Department of Human Services worker for negligence in 2013, arguing her aunt never should have been given custody since she had been convicted of murder in 1983 for starving a man to death two years prior. A federal judge threw out the lawsuit this year.
Weston, now 55, pleaded guilty in September to a slew of federal charges, including racketeering conspiracy, kidnapping resulting in the death of a victim, forced human labor, murder and sex trafficking. The plea was part of a deal that spared her the death penalty.
Weston's attorney argued that she was not a monster and was physically and sexually abused herself as a child. Weston testified that she was medicated for depression and schizophrenia and received only a fourth-grade education.
McIntosh pleaded guilty last year to dozens of charges including racketeering, conspiracy, kidnapping, forced human labor and assault with a deadly weapon.
Contact the author at Hilary.Hanson@huffingtonpost.com