EUREKA, Nev. — During a bizarre and nearly fatal trip to the Nevada mountains in May, Joshua Dundon told his two young daughters that their mother wanted to kill them, their house burned down, their dog was poisoned and the police were out to get them, an Ada County prosecutor said at Dundon’s Nov. 7 sentencing.
The 29-year-old father forced his poorly clothed children, barefoot when found by rescuers, to hike and hide in the rugged terrain outside Eureka — after they watched him set his truck on fire and roll it down a hillside, destroying all their camping gear, food and toys.
The girls, who were 6 and 7, suffered kidney failure, frostbite and extensive skin injuries during the ordeal, a Boise pediatrician testified at the sentencing. They could have died if searchers had not found them when they did, Dr. Matthew Cox said.
One of the girls tested positive for marijuana.
Dundon was sentenced last week to 20 years in prison, including eight before he’s eligible for parole, according to a recording of the hearing.
“It’s time for you to own up to the danger you placed your children in,” Judge Nancy Baskin told Dundon.
Dundon has admitted to using methamphetamine for about a year and a half before the May incident. He was using the drug to be more productive at his construction business but his thinking became “irrationally paranoid,” said his attorney, Gary Davis.
“In his mind, he thought he was protecting his girls,” Davis said. “He believed at that time that someone may have touched his daughter.”
Ada County Deputy Prosecutor John Dinger said Nevada authorities investigated the man whom Dundon accused and found that he could not have done it because he was incarcerated. Also, a pediatrician who specializes in child abuse found no evidence that either of the girls were sexually abused.
“Words can’t express the sincere regret I have for what I’ve put my family, children and the community through,” Dundon said in court. He thanked his family for standing by him.
He said his daughters are his “greatest motivation and accomplishment,” and he apologized for putting them in a situation no child should ever go through.
“I am your father and have never committed an action that I didn’t think was in your interest,” he said. “I obviously haven’t made the best choices.”
Baskin imposed a no-contact order for the duration of Dundon’s sentence, prohibiting him from contacting the girls. A motion can be made to amend or terminate that order, so Dundon is expected to re-establish a relationship with his children at some point while he’s incarcerated.
Prosecutors are seeking more than $17,000 in restitution from Dundon, largely for the children’s medical expenses.
Ashley Slusher, the girls’ mother, gave a victim impact statement. She said she was shocked at the girls’ conditions when she was reunited with them at a Boise hospital — not just because they were filthy, had matted hair and were covered in scratches. She said they didn’t initially respond to her, but instead stared blankly at a TV.
“What was once two little girls you couldn’t keep still were two girls laying in gurney beds, not moving or talking, or noticing mom was in front of them,” Slusher said. She said she held popsicles to their mouths because they were were too weak to do it themselves.
In a deal reached with prosecutors in September, Dundon pleaded guilty to custodial interference and infliction of great bodily harm, both felonies. A second count of custodial interference and a second count of infliction of great bodily injury were dropped in exchange for his plea.
Ada County prosecutors said the harm Dundon did to his children — both psychological and physical — warranted a full decade in prison before he was eligible for parole.
“Your honor, I am asking you to take a look at these little girls and sentence them to 10 years of not having to worry about this,” Dinger told Baskin. “Let these girls start to grow up without these worries. Let them go to junior high without these worries. Let them go to high school, learn to drive, date without this stress and this worry.”
Defense attorney Gary Davis called the state’s recommendation “unduly harsh.” Davis said Dundon was, by all accounts, a good father when he wasn’t using meth, and he asked the judge to send Dundon to a prison-based treatment program.
Baskin said she was surprised that a pre-sentence report on Dundon showed he has no underlying mental health issues.
“It was a choice on your part to use drugs,” she said.
Baskin said she believes that his actions in May were part of some sort of “psychotic break” that occurred due to his meth use. She encouraged him to participate in the treatment programs available through the Idaho Department of Correction.
Dundon, who shared custody of the girls, disappeared with them on or about May 10. An Amber Alert was issued May 15, after Eureka County sheriff’s officials determined that a truck that was set ablaze on May 11 belonged to Dundon. Witnesses heard gunshots at the time the fire was set, and a deputy who responded to the scene told the sheriff that someone fired in his direction.
The girls were found on the night the Amber Alert was issued — after a bedraggled Dundon sought food and water from a ranch near Eureka.
Cox, the pediatrician, warned that the “toxic stress” the girls suffered could cause lifelong problems, including acute depression and trust issues. Their mother said one of her girls has become withdrawn, and both are afraid of being alone in the house and have nightmares and sudden outbursts. Sometimes they ask, “Why did Daddy do this?”
Slusher said that like her daughters, she wonders why this happened.
“Instead of my girls worrying about who they were playing with at recess, now becomes a worry of who is trying to kill them and poison them, or people coming to take them away at night,” she said.