A man who believed his regimen of strict discipline and diet of herbal supplements would bring his large family closer to God was sentenced to more that 16 years in prison for letting one of his children starve to death.
Winnfred Wright, 46, was sentenced Friday to the maximum possible sentence of 16 years and 8 months in prison for felony child abuse in a plea deal.
Marin County Judge Terrence Boren concluded that Wright's lifestyle was not only unconventional, but resulted in the starvation death of his 19-month-old son.
Wright, who was head of household that included four women and 12 children, had initially been charged with second-degree murder.
The case broke in suburban Marin County after one of Wright's lovers, Mary Campbell, brought her dead son to the hospital in November 2001.
Speaking publicly for the first time since his arrest, Wright read a short statement, saying the child's death "struck me like a sledge hammer in the heart."
Earlier, prosecutor Barry Borden said the boy, Ndigo Campisi-Nyah-Wright, was no more developed physically than a 5-month-old. Doctors determined he had suffered from rickets and that dozens of the toddler's bones were fractured due to a calcium deficiency.
Wright said it was a horrible irony that his son died despite his own extensive research into certain alternative health practices.
"If we had believed in taking him to the mainstream doctors for a checkup, his life would have been spared," he said. "I have great sorrow over this, but our shunning of Western doctors was not based on blind belief."
But Borden argued that regardless of what Wright believed, he deserved the harshest punishment allowed under the law. Police investigators said Wright used physical force and psychological coercion to control his family in a virtual stockade.
His "Book of Rules" included strict behavioral codes that, when broken, resulted in harsh punishments. Sneaking food during routine three-day fasts, for example, might result in belt lashings or force-feedings of jalapeno peppers, prosecutors said.
Wright's lawyer, Mary Stearns, said that while the family's beliefs and practices were certainly unorthodox, and perhaps even delusional, all of the adults were well-intentioned.
Stearns said Wright had delegated responsibility for the children's well-being to the women in the household, including Carol Bremner, who died of leukemia last year.
The other two mothers, Campbell and Deidre Wilson, have pleaded guilty to child neglect charges, but asked to enter a residential treatment program in Ohio for former cult members. They are scheduled to be sentenced next month.
Members of Wright's once-tight household have drifted apart since their February 2002 arrests.