A grand jury will decide in early December whether to indict a Tennessee man on charges that he raped two of his daughters and forced them to wear an electric-shock dog collar. His wife may also face trial for failing to intervene.
Wayne Burkhart Jr., 38, and his wife, Rebecca, 35, were in court yesterday as Claiborne County Judge Robert Estep ruled that the case should go before a grand jury.
The husband and wife were arrested in September. Wayne Burkhart faces two counts of aggravated child assault and two counts of rape. Rebecca Burkhart was charged with aggravated child neglect and failing to report child abuse.
"We're pleased with yesterday's results, and we feel the judge's decision was consistent with the evidence," Claiborne County Assistant District Attorney Jared Effler told ABC News.
Burkhart's 17-year-old daughter told authorities in a Sept. 10 interview that she had been sexually and physically abused by her father, according to the complaint affidavit. "Among other things, her father [the defendant] uses dog collars equipped with electric shock to train his hunting dogs, and that he uses the collar on her to shock her and her 19-year-old sister," the affidavit reads.
The teen told authorities her father used the shock collar on her Sept. 9 "because he was mad at her for going out with a boy."
The teen also said that her mother had witnessed this and that her father typically put the collar around her midcalf to shock her. The girl's siblings, 15, 11 and 13, corroborated the account, according to the court documents.
Both teens showed investigators bruises consistent with an electric dog collar and the girl also said that her father held a shotgun to her head and said that if she "ever told anyone, he would kill himself, her and anyone who tried to remove her from his home," the affidavit reads.
Burkhart's children also said that their stepmother, Rebecca Burkhart, had been present when the dog collar was used. "At none of these times," the affidavit reads, "did [Rebecca Burkhart] attempt to call law enforcement or seek medical treatment for her stepdaughter."
The 17-year-old daughter said that Wayne Burkhart had raped her over the summer, according to the documents, a claim that her older sister, 18, also made to police. In each instance, the girls reported that the father had sex with them without consent.
Capt. Sam Nelson of the Claiborne County Sheriff's Office told ABC News that Burkhart's 17-year-old daughter reported the abuse to a resource officer at school after becoming fearful that her younger sister may also fall victim to her father's sexual assaults, and an incident in which Wayne Burkhart used the dog collar on her neck.
"That triggered her when she went to school that morning," Nelson said. "She had no intention of going back home."
Nelson, who said the Burkhart children remain in foster care, said that Wayne Burkhart believed he was trying to "discipline" his children with the dog collar.
"What I've been told, if you turn that thing up as far as it can go, it's awful," Nelson said. "If you can imagine that being used on a human -- that's what disgusts me. It's not discipline, it's torture."
Wayne Burkhart Jr. is being held in the Claiborne County Jail and Justice Center on a $1 million bond and has remained jailed since his arrest. Rebecca Burkhart was released after she posted a $100,000 bond.
Buddy Baird, Rebecca Burkhart's attorney, said that his client stands by her not guilty plea and will fight the charges in court. Baird said that there have been inconsistencies in the testimony of one of the children that may support his defendant's plea.
Baird stressed that his client has not been implicated in either of the rape charges, which he considers much more serious charges -- despite the outrage generated by the dog-collar accusations. "At no time has my client been implicated in any of that, which is good," Baird said, adding that he will not argue that his client is a victim of Wayne Burkhart.
The Claiborne County public defender's office, which is defending Wayne Burkhart, could not be reached for comment. Baird, who will work alongside the public defenders, said the office has a "blanket" no comment policy on ongoing cases.
In October, John Westover, 37, was sentenced in upstate New York to four years in prison for penning his son in an animal cage and forcing him to wear an electric shock dog collar.