Author: Michelle Theriault Boots
Updated: October 25, 2017
Published October 24, 2017
Adoptive mother Anya James, center, listens to testimony during her sentencing at the Nesbett Courthouse on Tuesday. (Bill Roth / Alaska Dispatch News)
The adopted children of an Anchorage woman accused of abusing them for years in a Hillside home finally confronted her in Anchorage criminal court at a sentencing hearing Tuesday.
It was a moment six years, five months and 12 days in the making.
Anya James was charged with abusing six children she adopted from foster care in May 2011. Now young adults, most of them were older children or young teenagers when they were placed with James.
In victim impact statements, the former adopted children — many of whom still have the last name James — described a life of torment, humiliation, deprivation and punishments with their adoptive mother in a house on Homestead Drive on the Anchorage Hillside.
Some said they were both fearful and relieved to have a chance to speak in court.
“Six and a half years later we’re finally in this room,” former adopted child Solomon “Tommy” James told the court. “We’re finally getting a sentencing. It’s absurd.”
The criminal case against Anya James had stretched on for longer than almost any other case in the Anchorage system.
It has been through three judges, three prosecutors and five defense attorneys. Before James entered into a plea agreement in January, her trial had been rescheduled 27 times.
James was originally charged with 16 felony counts in which she was accused of assaulting and kidnapping the six children, while collecting hundreds of thousands of dollars in state adoption subsidies.
In a January plea agreement, the charges were dismissed in exchange for James pleading guilty to two counts of “endangering the welfare of a child,” a Class C felony.
Prosecutors did not elaborate on what led to the plea agreement at Tuesday’s hearing.
Much of the testimony at Wednesday’s sentencing described abuse that James has not admitted to.
In her plea agreement, James stipulated only that she “recklessly failed to provide an adequate quantity of food or liquids to her adopted children,” which “caused protracted impairment of her health.”
Solomon “Tommy” James described much more when he stood to deliver a victim impact statement.
“I was the original lab rat,” he said. “The punishments all started on me.”
He said he went days without eating, and slept on a concrete floor in a 4-by-6-foot basement room. When his bones ached from the cold, he’d perch precariously on a heater to sleep. To this day, he said, his ankles are malformed from so much time spent curled into a ball for warmth.
Now a strapping 26-year-old car salesman, he told the court that at age 18 he weighed 90 pounds and stood 4-foot-8.
Some of the scars have lingered, he said: “I’m 26 years old and I’m scared of the dark.”
Tommy James told the court that just about every system designed to protect vulnerable children in Alaska — from the Office of Children’s Services that allowed James to adopt the children to the court that let the case stretch out for nearly seven years — had failed him and his siblings.
“She played the system,” he said. “Simple as that.”
Alice Tijerina, who said she was placed with James as a child, described siblings fighting over food like a mix of kidney beans, raw eggs, canned spinach and oatmeal served in Tupperware containers no one ever washed because they were licked clean by underfed teenagers.
The former adopted children described being given heavy doses of anti-psychotics and tranquilizers to make them compliant. They said they were kept away from school and not allowed to talk to counselors and psychologists alone. They talked about being forced to use buckets instead of toilets in front of their siblings and being stripped naked as a punishment.
Ahava James spoke about being unprepared to make friends or work at a job as a young adult because she’d been so isolated during her childhood.
“I’m 25 and I’m still scared,” she said. “My world revolves around my past.”
Eula Parent, the biological mother of two of the children who lived in James’ house, said she was told by the Office of Children’s Services that her children were better off in James’ fancy Hillside house than with her.
“They said my daughter’s bedroom is bigger than your living room,” Parent told the court.
She described searching the internet to find James’ address and driving the ice cream truck she owned through the neighborhood, hoping to catch a glimpse of her children.
“You did not deserve to be their mother,” Parent told James, who sat at the defense table with her attorney and didn’t speak during the hearing.
It’s possible that James will not do any time in jail.
She has been out on electronic monitoring for more than six years, which her attorney could ask to count as time served on her sentence. The sentencing range for a C felony is between 18 months of suspended time with probation and five years, per count.
The hearing ended without a sentence: Because the court ran out of time on Tuesday to finish the hearing, it was rescheduled for next week.
Judge Michael Wolverton asked the former adopted children if they would be able to come back to court one more time, on Thursday, Nov. 2.
They all said they’d be there.