The third and final adult to be sentenced for savagely abusing an adult relative over several years has been sentenced to 30 years in prison.
Johnny Dale Nichols, 44, pleaded guilty Thursday in Hamilton County to sexual battery, aggravated battery with great bodily harm and kidnapping in connection with years of abuse of a female relative who is now 29 years old.
Nichols' wife, Martha Turner, 45, her daughter, Jessica Lynn Turner, 26, and a teenage boy all entered pleas earlier in the case and were sentenced to detention. Four children, who are now ages 7 to 14, were found with Nichols and the Turners and have been placed in foster care.
The situation unfolded in Hamilton County nearly two years ago when the victim escaped from the family before Nichols and the others moved to Columbia County. The woman left the family's rural, Fort White area home and sought help from a minister and his wife who lived nearby. Investigators told The Sun that the woman had BBs embedded in her head and a leg, previously broken bones, scars all over her body and more recent wounds that exposed bone.
Those who were in court on Thursday said Nichols admitted to the judge that he beat the woman with a switch made of plastic - known to family members as the beat stick - sometimes hitting the woman so hard that her flesh was torn. Nichols also told Circuit Court Judge Greg Parker that he administered his version of punishment several times a week and sometimes twice a day for offenses like "being stupid."
Other ways that Nichols admitting to abusing the woman included gagging her, chaining her by the neck and leg to keep her from leaving the house at night, hanging her on a hook attached to a doorframe and shooting her with a BB gun while she was chained.
Following the woman's escape, Hamilton County Sheriff Harrell Reid, a 30-year law enforcement veteran, told The Sun it was the most horrific case of abuse he has ever seen.
"I'm surprised somebody beat up that bad was still alive," Reid said.
Parker sentenced Nichols to 30 years in prison for the kidnapping and 15 years for battery and sexual abuse. Nichols was also fined $10,000 and ordered to pay the victim $10,000 in restitution.
The Nichols-Turner family reportedly moved to North Florida in the early to mid-1990s from Washington state. They initially moved into a mobile home. Around 2004 they moved to a wood-frame house they rented on County Road 137 north of White Springs.
A few days after the victim escaped in October 2007, the three remaining adults moved the five children to a small, one-story brick home at 309 S.E. Country Club Drive in Lake City.
The Turner women worked at a poultry production facility in Lake City while Nichols remained at home. Witnesses told investigators that Nichols said a disability prevented him from working and that he was home-schooling the children.