Editor's Note: This story contains details that some readers will find disturbing.
Five family members pleaded not guilty Wednesday on charges connected to the deaths of two children whose bodies were found buried in the backyard of an Effingham County, Georgia home.
Mary and Elwyn Crocker were each 14 when they died two years apart, investigators say.
Their bodies were found buried behind their family's home in Guyton, Georgia in December 2018.
A third child, an 11-year-old boy who has cerebral palsy, was found alive "laying on the bathroom floor of the master bedroom, covered up in a blanket," Effingham County Sheriff’s Office Detective Abby Brown testified in a March bond hearing. He allegedly told DFCS workers about abuse inside the home.
Five family members, including their father, Elwyn Crocker, Sr., and their stepmother, Candice Crocker, are charged with felony murder, child cruelty and other crimes, according to the Associated Press.
Other suspects include Kimberly Wright, Candice's mother, her boyfriend, Roy Prayer and the children's step-uncle Mark Anthony Wright.
Bodies of two teens found buried behind Guyton home
On Wednesday, all five entered not guilty pleas, according to WSAV-TV.
Both children had been students in the Effingham County School District, school officials said. Elwyn Jr. was withdrawn in January 2014 when he was a 6th grader. Mary had been taken out of school at the beginning of this school year.
HORRIFYING DETAILS ABOUT MARY'S DEATH
Investigators released details of the children's lives and deaths in a bond hearing in March.
According to investigators, Elwyn Crocker, Sr. admitted to keeping Mary in a dog cage naked, using zip-ties so that she wouldn't get out.
Investigator Abby Brown said Mary had been tased, starved and beaten for stealing food.
Detectives said they discovered photos showing Mary, naked and malnourished, with bruises on her face, hands, and body. She'd been fed food with rice vinegar and other substances to affect the taste, "in hopes that she would not eat."
"They would not allow her to eat, and if she did, it was special food that was made just for her which has been described by other people as grey and something nobody would want to eat," Brown said.
She became so stiff from being confined to the kennel that the family duct-taped her to a ladder to straighten her posture, the investigator said.
Crocker Sr. allegedly told detectives that Mary died on Oct. 28, 2018, and that he buried her in the backyard.
Crocker Sr. initially told police Mary moved to South Carolina with her mom. But he eventually admitted to killing both Mary and Elwyn Jr., saying Candice Crocker and Kimberly Wright told him to do it, WSAV reported.
CHILDREN'S DEATHS SPURS NEW LEGISLATION
After the children's deaths, Rep. Bill Hitchens and three other lawmakers introduced House Bill 530, which prohibits parents from removing children from public school to avoid complying with attendance and discipline laws.
The bill calls for school systems to review attendance and disciplinary records and determine if there was a reasonable ground to the parent withdrawing the child to avoid complying with laws about attendance, parental involvement or parental responsibilities.
If a school finds reasonable grounds, they would be required to notify the Division of Family and Children Services to investigate educational neglect. DFCS would also be notified if a child is withdrawn from school without notification or stops attending school for an extended period and cannot be located.
As it stands now, parents who home-school their children are only required to give a once-a-year notice with the child’s name, address and age.
HB530 was passed by both the Georgia House and Senate and sent to the governor's desk for signature.