A Danville woman has been sentenced to 15 years in prison after pleading guilty to abusing three Madison County children.

Patricia Ann Harris, 55, was sentenced Tuesday in Boyle County Circuit Court for abusing the three children of Richmond resident Mary Sue Johnson.

Harris pleaded guilty in September to second-degree sodomy, first-degree sexual abuse and three counts of first-degree criminal abuse.

Harris adopted the girls — who were ages 5, 6 and 8 — in April 2006 after the rights of Johnson and the children’s father were severed by the state Cabinet for Families and Children based on a 2003 investigation for alleged neglect and sexual abuse.

All three girls were removed from Harris’ home in late June last year when concerns for the children were reported through the school system, Danville Police Detective A.J. Mullins told the (Danville) Advocate-Messenger. Harris was arrested July 16 for nine counts of criminal abuse, two counts of first-degree sodomy and one count of having a first-degree unlawful transaction with a minor for allegedly abusing the children.

“I believe for some time there had been bruising and what not, but they were always explained,” Mullins told the Advocate-Messenger.

The girls accused Harris of throwing and pushing them down a staircase, biting their fingers, tongue and lip areas, and hitting them in the face, according to court records. Harris also is accused of bending the children’s’ fingers backward until they broke. The youngest child told social workers that Harris sexually abused her.

The 5-year-old received physical therapy for the fingers that Harris allegedly broke and then left untreated. The middle child reportedly suffered bruising to her arms and legs after being thrown into a bathtub.

“Harris also allegedly made the three girls squat while putting their hands on the top of their heads and holding the position for a certain period of time, then punishing them if they could not do so by forcing them to stand facing the wall,” the Advocate-Messenger reported. “ ... Court records allege that Harris would place her foot on the children’s chest or neck area and hold them to the floor, making breathing difficult. She also allegedly choked the girls by holding their throats while she pushed them up against a wall.”

Harris wrote in a letter to Boyle County Circuit Judge Darren Peckler that she regretted doing things that were wrong and prays for forgiveness.

Peckler said in court Tuesday that he couldn’t excuse the crimes and wouldn’t demean the offense by giving Harris probation that was asked for by her defense attorney.

When Johnson heard about the abuse reports (involving Harris), she had panic attacks so severe that she had to be hospitalized, she said in an August 2007 interview with the Richmond Register.

At that time, she was reported saying that she was going to fight to get her children back.

“I have had people tell me I was a bad mother and that I never did deserve my kids in the first place and that hurts,” Johnson said. “But now, I have a job and I have help. Now, I’ve got my own place to live. I love my kids. I would do anything for them I could and sacrifice anything for them. It hurts because I think I should be able to have a second chance.”

Boyle County Commonwealth’s Attorney Richard Bottoms said the girls have been placed back into foster care and was not sure about their permanent adoption status.

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

Ronica Shannon can be reached at rshannon@richmondregister.com or 623-1669, Ext. 234.

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