Lori Gardner and Brian Sleboda were escorted out of Scranton Police headquarters in handcuffs Tuesday afternoon, accused of banishing Ms. Gardner's diaper-clad 7-year-old son to a basement coffin as punishment.
The couple turned themselves in to police eight days after officers were dispatched to a home at 823 Raines St. and four days after charges were formally filed in the case.
"This is a horrific crime," Detective Sgt. Bob Martin said outside police headquarters after the boy's mother and stepfather were placed in separate police cars and whisked away for arraignment.
"The investigation is ongoing," Sgt. Martin said.
Ms. Gardner, 26, and Mr. Sleboda, 31, were arraigned Tuesday night before Magisterial District Judge Robert G. Russell on felony counts of endangering the welfare of a child and unlawful restraint. They were committed to Lackawanna County Prison in lieu of $60,000 straight bail each.
Police responded to the Green Ridge home, later condemned, on Sept. 26 after neighbors reportedly discovered the boy crying in a basement doorway wearing only a school shirt and a diaper, according to arrest papers.
Scranton police Capt. Carl Graziano, who heads the department's patrol division, said patrol officers did not arrest Mr. Sleboda and Ms. Gardner at the scene as the child first needed to be questioned by a forensic interviewer at the Children's Advocacy Center as part of the investigation.
Detective Capt. Al Leoncini said that when Detective Vincent Uher took over the probe on Sept. 27, the incident required follow-up investigation prior to charges being filed against Mr. Sleboda and Ms. Gardner, which took place on Friday.
The 7-year-old boy is currently in the custody of Children and Youth Services, Capt. Leoncini said.
City police had been searching for the couple since the charges were filed. Mr. Sleboda was considered a possible flight risk because he has ties to North Carolina, Sgt. Martin said.
The couple is accused of putting the boy in the basement and repeatedly locking him down there - sometimes all day - as punishment, according to the criminal complaint filed by Det. Uher.
Ms. Gardner allegedly duct-taped the boy's arms to a chair in the basement.
Mr. Sleboda also allegedly put a diaper on the child and locked him in a coffin in the basement of the family's home after he returned from school on Sept. 26.
"Are you here to help me?" the child asked Officer Melissa Forsette after he hugged her when she arrived at the home, according to the complaint.
The child told officers that his step father often locked him in the coffin in the basement, sometimes binding it shut with duct tape as punishment. His parents would tell him that there are ghosts living in the basement, according to the complaint.
On Sept. 26, the child said Mr. Sleboda restrained him in the coffin by placing a chair on top of it though he managed to push it open before calling out for help, according to the complaint.
At the base of a staircase leading to the locked basement door, officers also found a thick chain which the child explained his parents would shake and tell him the noise was the ghosts living in the basement, according to the complaint.
Ms. Gardner arrived at the home during the initial investigation and told officers that, while the child was placed in the basement as punishment, the door was not locked, according to the complaint.
However, inside the home where Mr. Sleboda had been throughout the ordeal, officers found the door leading to the basement locked, according to the complaint.
Ms. Gardner allegedly admitted the child was put in the basement for punishment and that his arms and hands were duct taped.
But she stated they were merely playing a game, arrest papers said.
Inside the dark basement, officers found the coffin, a broken toilet swarming with flies and ticks and a "Camel Exotic Blends" light hanging over a bar in the basement, the only light source in the room, according to the complaint.
Mark Seitzinger, city director of licensing, inspections and permits, told the Times-Tribune on Monday the home was condemned as "unsafe for human habitation" after inspectors found it was infested with bugs, had electrical issues, as well as finding evidence of a fire inside.
Lackawanna County Assessor's Office records show that the property at 823 Raines St. is owned by Robert Bradley Green and Cheryl A. Green of Green Lane in Scott Twp., having been purchased in August 1978.
The Times-Tribune located a number for Cheryl Green at the Green Lane address. A woman who answered the phone Tuesday night said she was Cheryl in response to a reporter's question but declined to comment when asked if she was related to Ms. Gardner.
"I really don't want to discuss this," the woman said before hanging up.