The Lebanon County Detective Bureau has charged a North Annville Township couple with “prolonged assault and abuse” of their five adopted children, who range in age from 6 to 15.

Criminal Complaints filed on Feb. 2 against 44 year-old Robert J. Duncan and his 42 year-old wife, Stephanie A. Duncan, allege that the abuse took place over at least a two year period. The couple face multiple felony and misdemeanor charges that could result in decades in jail, if they are convicted.

The children are now in the protective custody of Lebanon County Children & Youth Services.

According to documents filed before Magisterial District Judge John Ditzler, the couple’s 11 year-old son was taken by ambulance to Hershey Medical Center’s Emergency Room on Jan. 12.

The child was unresponsive and suffering from dangerously low body temperature and blood pressure, plus other medical problems. Multiple bruises that did not seem to be accidental were found on his body. Stephanie Duncan arrived later at the emergency room and told doctors that the 11 year-old child might have drunk diluted bleach.

Doctors at HMC considered his condition life-threatening, and noted that he nearly died at one point after admission. They suspected child abuse and notified the Lebanon County District Attorney’s Child Abuse Response Team.

Documents filed with MDJ Ditzler allege that CART Detectives visited the Duncans’ home on Jan. 13 and spoke briefly with Stephanie Duncan and another adopted child, who is 13 years old. The adoptive father, Robert Duncan, was not present.

The 11 year-old child has been discharged from the hospital and is also in protective custody, according to Lebanon County District Attorney Pier Hess Graf.

While in protective custody, all five children were separately interviewed by investigators between Jan. 19 and Jan. 28. Investigators allege that they all reported being repeatedly subjected to physical abuse and assaults, including prolonged restraint and harsh discipline such as physical punishment and denial of basics such as heat, bedroom furniture, and bedding.

Court documents suggest that the eleven year old child may have been a special focus of his adoptive parents. According to investigators, interviews with the other children suggest that:

  • “[The 11 year-old child] lived and spent the majority of his time locked in his room for ‘about two years.’ At times, his parents allowed [the eleven year-old child] out of his bedroom to use the bathroom and do schoolwork. However, ‘most of the time, he is in his room, in the dark, running.’ Running was explained as being a consequence of bad behavior.”
  • “The children’s statements revealed the conditions investigators observed in [the 11 year-old child’s] room on Jan. 11th and 13th were fabricated. Months prior to [the 11 year-old child’s] hospitalization, S. Duncan and R. Duncan pulled all items from [the 11 year-old child’s] room. R. Duncan removed his wooden bed frame, mattress, and bedding. The Defendants took the few personal items [the 11 year-old child] kept in his room. The room lacked any heat source. Essentially, [the 11 year-old child] lived in an empty room and slept on a cold concrete floor.” (District Attorney Hess Graf clarified that the reference to “Jan. 11th and 13th” was an error, and should have read “Jan. 13th and 15th”)
  • “The children described the day [the 11 year-old child] was hospitalized. S. Duncan told the fifteen (15) year old child, . . . , to put a heater and mattress in [the 11 year-old child’s] room. S. Duncan also directed [the 15 year-old child] to put covers and sheets back on [the 11 year-old child’s] bed. The plastic organizer and instrument found by law enforcement were also fabricated, having been put back into the room after [the 11 year-old child’s] hospitalization.”
  • “The children described the daily treatment and torment inflicted upon [the 11 year-old child] by both Defendants. [The 11 year-old child] is rarely allowed out of his room to use the bathroom. [The 11 year-old child] pees in his room almost every day. Whenever [the 11 year-old child] pees in his room, he has to clean it with bleach. While the floor is drying, [the 11 year-old child] is made to run in place within the room. [The 11 year-old child] may have been unresponsive because of the bleach. [The 11 year-old child] had to use an inhaler because of the bleach fumes making him cough ‘badly.’ Whenever [the 11 year-old child] complains about the bleach, Mom pours bleach on his head.”

Robert and Stephanie Duncan face 28 and 30 separate charges, respectively. They range from 1st Degree Felonies carrying maximum possible jail sentences of 20 years, down to 2nd Degree Misdemeanors carrying maximum possible jail sentences of two years.

Those charges include aggravated and simple assault on children, strangulation of household members, unlawful restraint, endangering the welfare of children, and tampering with evidence.

The Duncans were arraigned on Feb. 2 before Magisterial District Judge John Ditzler, who set Robert Duncan’s bail at $200,000 and Stephanie Duncan’s at $250,000. If released, both are forbidden from having any contact with the children.

As of 11:00 a.m. on Feb. 3, neither had posted bail, and both remained at the Lebanon County Correctional Facility. Their preliminary hearing is scheduled for Feb. 11 at 8:00 a.m. before MDJ Ditzler.

UPDATE: This post was updated at 10:10 a.m. on Feb. 4, 2021 to delete the initials of the Duncans’ children.

UPDATE: This post was updated at 9:45 a.m. on Feb. 5, 2021 to state the correct number of charges each defendant faces.

Questions about this story? Suggestions for a future LebTown article? Reach our newsroom using this contact form and we’ll do our best to get back to you.

Do you want to see more from LebTown?

Support local news. Cancel anytime.

Already a member? Login here

Free news isn’t cheap. If you value the journalism LebTown provides to the community, then help us make it sustainable by becoming a champion of local news. You can unlock additional coverage for the community by supporting our work with a one-time contribution, or joining as a monthly or annual member. You can cancel anytime.

Chris Coyle writes primarily on government, the courts, and business. He retired as an attorney at the end of 2018, after concentrating for nearly four decades on civil and criminal litigation and trials. A career highlight was successfully defending a retired Pennsylvania state trooper who was accused,...