White West Virginia couple forced their adopted black children to work as slaves and live in barn

A wealthy white West Virginia couple have been accused of forcing their adopted black children to work as slaves and live inside a locked barn.

Donald Ray Lantz, 63, and Jeanne Kay Whitefeather, 62 of Charleston, West Virginia, plead not guilty on Tuesday to multiple new charges after their kids were found locked in a dilapidated shed after allegedly laboring on the surrounding farmland.

The judge presiding over the case said the couple targeted their five kids – aged 16, 14, 11, nine, and six – because of their race and they were ‘used basically as slaves.’

According to the original arrest report in October, the 16 and 14-year-old children were locked in the squalid 20×14 shed with no lights, food or running water – with a camera planted in the top left corner of the room.

The children, who smelled of body odor, were found wearing dirty clothes with sores on their feet after a wellness check was performed on the outhouse on Cheyenne Lane – which had no way of being opened from the inside.

The shed sat on the grounds of the couple’s five-acre, three-bedroom $295,000 Sissonville property. They also owned an 80-acre $725,000 home in Tonasket, Washington, which they sold after their arrest in October.

Pictured: The backyard shed where two of the couple’s teenage adopted children were found. There was no way to open the door from the inside, and cops found the kids without food or water. The kids were also forced to do manual labor on the surrounding farmland, its alleged

Donald Ray Lantz, 63

Jeanne Kay Whitefeather, 62

Donald Ray Lantz, 63, and Jeanne Kay Whitefeather, 62 of Charleston, West Virginia , plead not guilty on Tuesday to the new charges they are facing. The couple were first arrested in October 2023 after their adopted children were found locked in a shed on their property

Whitefeather stated that the barn where the girl, 16, and boy, 14, were found was a ‘teenage clubhouse,’ and they were not held against their will.

The mother told deputies the children – who were all homeschooled – actually ‘liked’ the shed they were locked in. 

However, the teenage girl told deputies they had been locked in the building for approximately 12 hours and were last given food at 6am. 

The building only had a small RV porta-potty and no running water, according to images from inside and descriptions from the initial police report. 

The children were also forced to sleep on the hard concrete floor, they said. The criminal complaint stated: ‘If there was a medical emergency or fire, the children would be unable to exit the locked room to safety.’

Court documents said neighbors reported that the children were forced into farm labor and were not allowed inside the main house.

Filings also state that the teenage boy found inside the outhouse smelled of body odor and had ‘open sores on his bare feet.’

Three hours after finding the older children in the locked shed, deputies found a nine-year-old girl holed up in a loft inside the family’s locked main house.

Lantz came home with the 11-year-old boy, while Whitefeather surrendered their six-year-old girl to authorities, who has been with friends from the couple’s church.

Pictured: Photos from inside a Sissonville shed where two teenagers were allegedly found locked inside on October 2, were shown during a bond hearing for Jeanne Whitefeather in October 2023

Pictured: Photos from inside a Sissonville shed where two teenagers were allegedly found locked inside on October 2, were shown during a bond hearing for Jeanne Whitefeather in October 2023

The children were found by authorities with an array of health problems - and the photos were taken by Whitefeather's brother about a week following the arrests

The children were found by authorities with an array of health problems – and the photos were taken by Whitefeather’s brother about a week following the arrests 

Child Protective Services were called at the time, and took custody of the children.

The new charges the couple are facing include human trafficking of a minor child, use of a minor child in forced labor, and child neglect creating substantial risk of serious bodily injury or death.

Their bond has now been set to $500,000 each – which is $300,000 more than each of their original bonds. 

The latest indictment outlining the upgraded charges claims the couple is guilty of human rights violations, alleging that the couple forced their children into hard labor because of their race. 

Kanawha County Circuit Judge Maryclaire Akers told MetroNews that this case is the first of its kind that she has seen in her career – and that the couple’s original bond of $200,000 was insufficient compared to the severity of their crimes.

‘Along with human trafficking and neglect was serious risk of bodily injuries or death, I don’t find the bond to be sufficient,’ Akers said. ‘It alleges human trafficking, human rights violations, the use of forced labor.’

The West Virginia couple are seen pictured at one of their previous court hearings

The West Virginia couple are seen pictured at one of their previous court hearings

Donald Ray Lantz, 63, is pictured in court in June

Donald Ray Lantz, 63, is pictured in court in June

Jeanne Kay Whitefeather is seen in court in June

Jeanne Kay Whitefeather is seen in court in June

‘Human rights violations specific to the fact that these children were targeted because of their race and they were used basically as slaves from what the indictment alleges.’

The minors involved were aged 16, 14, 11, nine, and six. The indictment suggests that three of the adopted children were black.  

Prosecutors previously raised concerns that the couple’s joint $400,000 bond money in February might have come from their alleged human trafficking activities.

Kanawha County Assistant Prosecuting Attorney Christopher Krivonyak reported that the couple, who previously claimed to have no assets or income, sold their 80-acre ranch in Tonasket, Washington for $725,000 on February 2. 

Three days later, Whitefeather’s brother Marcus Hughes posted two $200,000 bonds to get the couple out of the jail cells they were being held in. 

Then on March 28, Krivonyak noted that they had also sold their home in Sissonville, where they were arrested, for $295,000.

Prosecutors concluded that despite whether or not the money was obtained legally, it was originally intended for human trafficking.

Deputies say there are no prior criminal records of the two adults in West Virginia. 

Pictured: Outhouses on the property on Cheyenne Lane, where the children were found

Pictured: Outhouses on the property on Cheyenne Lane, where the children were found

Pictured: Outhouses on the property on Cheyenne Lane. The couple sold the home in December 2023, after they had been initially arrested

Pictured: Outhouses on the property on Cheyenne Lane. The couple sold the home in December 2023, after they had been initially arrested 

Kanawha County Sheriff’s deputies previously said that a complaint was made back in May 2023 about the couple –  and a second complaint was made in September.

The nature of those complaints were similar to the charges the pair now face.

In both cases last year, deputies said that they did not find any wrongdoing when they made a trip to the West Virginia home. They said they saw the children inside the home, and on one occasion, they were eating dinner. 

CPS was also called on the family, according to their neighbor Stacy Miller.

Miller told West Virginia Watch that she witnessed the kids out in the yard with their ‘heads down and forced to stand in a straight line.’

She described what she saw as forced manual labor.

Neighbor Miller said that she never heard back from CPS about the worries: ‘I’m supposed to do the right thing and call. For a government entity that us taxpayers fund … to not feel like I was listened to at all, that’s heartbreaking for me.’ 

The couple’s initial bond money is now in the custody of the court, which Krivonyak said should be transferred to the children in the form of a trust fund.

Whitefeather’s attorney, Mark Plants, said at a hearing in February: ‘The main allegation is that these children were locked in a shed. 

‘The evidence is going to show that there was a key inside. This case, on its face, sounds atrocious. However, there are two sides to every story.’ 

Their next court appearance is set for September 9. 

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