CROWN POINT — The parents of three preschoolers molested by an employee at a church-based day care said Friday the defendant handed them a life sentence when he chose to sexually abuse their children.

Joseph R. Hudson, 23, of Hobart, was sentenced to eight years in prison, the maximum allowed under his plea agreement, after pleading guilty in June to one count of child molesting. Prosecutors dismissed two other cases as part of the deal.

Hudson will be required to register as a sex offender for life, attorneys said.

Hudson molested two girls and one boy, ages 3, 4 and 5, between November 2017 and September 2018 while working at Hobart Assembly's Growing Hearts Daycare, according to court records.

The boy's father told Lake Criminal Court Judge Salvador Vasquez his child still wakes up at night in terror and fears he will be "put in the ground and covered with dirt" or his family will be harmed because he spoke out.

"This will forever be a part of our lives, and that is a wrong that can never be righted," he said.

'I will not forgive'

The boy's mother said her son's symptoms manifested before she was aware of the sexual abuse her child was enduring. The family took him to doctors, whose only explanation for the boy's symptoms was stress, she said.

She recalled her son saying Hudson was mean and angry, but she didn't suspect her son was being sexually abused until she read in the newspaper that Hudson had been accused of molesting another child at the school.

After her son told her about his abuse, guilt washed over her.

"To hear it and not scream, cry or throw up," she said. "He told me, 'It was like 100 times, Mommy.'"

The boy's father said, "I will not forgive. Not now. Not ever."

The parents of another child described their daughter as a champion because she had the courage to tell her mother about the abuse. After Hudson was charged in their case in October, two more families came forward, they said.

"'He touched me.' Those words sent me and my family to a new low," the girl's father said.

Comments on social media asking how the children's parents could let the abuse happen deeply hurt his family. Church staff attempted to play it off like it wasn't a big deal, he said.

"It's a shame and embarrassment we will not soon forget," he said.

His daughter suffers from panic attacks, and his wife has been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, he said.

If Hudson had broken into his garage and stolen his lawnmower, he might support leniency, he said.

"He didn't steal my lawnmower," the father said. "He stole my daughter's innocence."

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The girl's mother said her family chose Growing Hearts Daycare because it was an easy commute. She can't understand why Hudson would sexually abuse an innocent child, she said.

The abuse will not define her daughter's life, she said. 

"She's a hero," the mother said. "She has accomplished more than you will, even in the short five years of her life. You should be ashamed of yourself."

Defendant apologizes

Hudson told the families what he did was "horrible."

"It wasn't your fault," he said. "It was a choice that was made by me and solely by me, and all I can say is I'm sorry."

Hudson's mother, Jaime Hudson, said he was a good child who never drank or used drugs.

She said she and her son also were once victims of sexual abuse.

"I know the pain of a child, and I'm so sorry," she said. "I love my son with all my heart, and I know he needs help, and I ask for mercy for my son."

Hudson's defense attorney, Joseph Roberts, asked Vasquez to consider suspending part of his client's sentence and placing him on probation.

Hudson at one time was sexually abused, but was not the victim in the room Friday, Roberts said.

Lake County Deputy Prosecutor Maryam Afshar said Hudson is relatively young and has no previous criminal history, but the age of his victims and the amount of trauma he inflicted on the families justified an eight-year prison term.

"Sorry is not enough," she said.

Hudson was in a position of trust, and he failed miserably, Vasquez said.

Placing Hudson on probation for any part of his eight-year sentence "would undermine any sense of justice when a person molests 4-year-olds," he said.

He ordered that Hudson receive treatment, but barred any opportunity for Hudson to complete his sentence in a work-release program. Hudson must serve at least 75% of his sentence, records show.

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