FLORENCE — Daniel Spurgeon and several of his victims were in the same room Monday, but this time the tables were turned.
This time, the victims were empowered and Spurgeon, the former foster parent who pleaded guilty July 29 to 11 counts of aggravated child abuse, two counts of first-degree rape of a child under 12, and one count of sexual torture, was in custody and wearing an orange Lauderdale County Detention Center jumpsuit.
During his sentencing hearing, Spurgeon's victims spoke out, mainly through written words either from the victims or their adoptive parents. Lauderdale County Chief Assistant District Attorney Angie Hamilton read the comments.
"Now it's your turn to be tortured like you did us," one stated.
"I hope you feel vulnerable and threatened and like everyone is out to get you," another read.
"I hope this eats at you every night, and you're never able to have a peaceful night's sleep," a letter stated. "You have no power now. We have the power."
"Growing up, I was always taught that monsters are not real," one adoptive mother told Spurgeon, later adding, "You no longer have control over them."
One victim discussed the nightmare of having no authority over her life for so many of her young years because Spurgeon had made himself the "author" of her story.
"From here on out I'm the author, and I take great comfort in taking that power from you," she said.
Lauderdale County Circuit Judge Gil Self then voiced his sentiments before issuing a 25-year sentence that does not allow a chance for early parole, and does not allow Spurgeon to receive any credit for good behavior.
First, however, Self directed his comments at the victims, many of whom had stated they are turning themselves into success stories, finding loving homes with their adoptive parents, improving themselves, gaining confidence and receiving educations, despite years of Spurgeon telling them they were worthless, stupid and unloved.
"To overcome the obstacles and enjoy the success you're enjoying is truly inspiring," Self told them.
The judge's positive tone toward the victims turned into a stern lambasting when he began addressing Spurgeon.
"You are truly a monster," Self told him. "You are a living, breathing monster. I had never before you seen a such sadistic person, who sadistically and schematically carried out an evil practice like you did daily."
Spurgeon and his wife, Jenise, were charged with various counts against the children they were fostering.
They also face charges connected to a Cape Coral, Florida, incident. A girl connected to that incident told authorities there had been multiple incidents while they lived in Florence in 2008, authorities said. That started the local investigation.
Jenise Spurgeon's trial is set for Oct. 21.
At one point during Monday's hearing, Spurgeon apologized to the victims and said the actions were his alone, and nobody else in his family knew about them. That comment drew an immediate retort from a victim, who stood and told him, "You knew and Jenise knew, because we told her. Don't play that game."
Self told Spurgeon the decision to allow a plea means the victims do not have to be "retraumatized" by the process of his trial.
The judge also did not want to give Spurgeon the satisfaction of forcing the victims to relive the torture he put them through.
"You have taken pleasure in listening to the facts in this case and I'm not going to let that occur in my courtroom," Self said.
In addition to the sexual abuse, there were other aspects of the cruelty, including forcing the children to go without food, Hamilton said. Investigators found a hole in a wall that the children had dug out to hide candy bars.
Another wall had a hole that was not made intentionally, Hamilton said. It was the result of a child's head smashing into the wall when she was thrown by Spurgeon. The children hid food and pens and paper in it.
She said several adoptive parents told her the children would not sleep in beds when they first starting living with them, instead sleeping on floors because they had been taught that they were not worthy to sleep in a bed.
Hamilton said the children were traumatized by Spurgeon, and were not given proper clothing. They were locked in closets and bathrooms. Meanwhile, the Spurgeons collected more than $200,000 from the Department of Human Resources for being foster parents.
Following the sentencing, Hamilton said it was important to the victims that they let Spurgeon know they are moving on with their lives and he no longer can prevent that.
"You feel like you're in the presence of evil when you're around him," she said.
In all, 11 local victims came forward in the case, Hamilton said.
She said the 25-year sentence is a "day-to-day" sentence, meaning Spurgeon cannot be released early. After 25 years, he still would have to wear a monitor for 10 years.