ELYRIA — Joseph Winkler acknowledged Wednesday that he should have done something to stop the draconian punishments his wife was imposing on his twin teenage sons before they escaped from the couple’s North Ridgeville home in February and sought help from police.
“The punishment went too far. … It was a bad situation and I should have done something to change what happened,” Winkler, 40, said during an appearance before Elyria Municipal Court Judge Gary Bennett.
Joseph Winkler also said during the hearing that he had concerns about the extent of the punishments 39-year-old Jonna Winkler, the boys’ jailed stepmother, was inflicting on his sons but couldn’t stop her.
“I tried to fight against my wife, but she broke me down,” he said.
Those admissions didn’t stop Bennett from sentencing Winkler to seven months in the Lorain County Jail on misdemeanor charges of child endangering and persistent disorderly conduct.
It was the same jail sentence that Bennett imposed on Jonna Winkler last month. Joseph Winkler’s sentence will begin in April after his wife completes her jail sentence. Unlike his wife, Joseph Winkler will be granted work release so he can continue to support his family while he is incarcerated, the judge said.
He also was fined $1,200 and ordered to repay monthly $190 Social Security checks sent to help care for the boys that he continued to cash even after they were removed from his custody when authorities became involved.
North Ridgeville police and Bennett have said that the two twin boys, now 15, were locked inside their bedroom, which contained nothing more than bare mattresses, while wearing only underwear while Jonna Winkler took her four children to a home school event Feb. 22.
One of the boys climbed out of a window and unlocked the bedroom door to free his brother. The two then dressed, packed some dog food and fled the family’s Wallace Boulevard house. They eventually went to the North Ridgeville Police Department when they couldn’t figure how to get to their biological mother’s home in Cuyahoga County.
Bennett said police concluded the teens only came to them out of desperation because their ongoing mistreatment “had broken their spirits.”
North Ridgeville police Officer Joe Roth has said when he took the boys back to their house they started to get undressed and asked him to lock them back in their room.
Roth refused to do so and when he returned later with Lorain County Children Services the beds had been made and the deadbolt removed from the bedroom door. There also was a fresh dent in a closet wall where the boys have said their stepmother slammed one boy’s head into the wall.
During her court appearance in September, Jonna Winkler defended her actions, saying she was trying to rein in the bad behavior of her two sons, which included stealing from one of their siblings.
But Bennett has said that the two boys were so hungry that they were forced to eat dog food to supplement their diet and there was only room at the dining room table for Joseph and Jonna Winkler, their two children and two children Jonna Winkler had from a previous relationship.
Bennett said Tuesday that Joseph Winkler had failed to stand up for and protect his children.
“Out of all the people in the world, you’re the one they should have been able to count on, and they couldn’t,” the judge said.
Neither boy spoke at the hearing, although they had talked to Bennett in his chambers beforehand.
During Jonna Winkler’s sentencing hearing last month, one of them told Bennett about his stepmother’s theory on discipline.
“Even after you ask for forgiveness, you still need to have punishment,” the teen said.
Rebecca Winkler, Joseph Winkler’s ex-wife and the biological mother of the teens, said after Wednesday’s hearing that her sons are now living with her and are doing well both at her home and in school.
She said when she and Joseph Winkler got divorced she ended up moving away from the area for a job and that, coupled with two bouts with cancer, led her to let her ex-husband taking custody of her sons.
But she also said that Joseph and Jonna Winkler did their best to keep her from visiting her sons and she was horrified to learn how they had been treated.
“All I can say is what was done to my kids was unspeakable,” Rebecca Winkler said.
Jeff Brown, Joseph Winkler’s attorney, said after the hearing that his client is genuinely remorseful and has taken steps to become a better father, including parenting classes and counseling.
“He’s doing all the right things, just too late,” Brown said.