PHOENIX — Machelle Hobson died before ever going to trial. The Maricopa mother dubbed "YouTube mom" was facing 29 child abuse charges involving seven of her adopted children, who investigators say she forced to perform in lucrative online videos.
Hobson was looking at life in prison. "They just slap a bunch of s*** on paper and say, 'here are your charges,'" she said in a recorded jail phone call with her father.
Hobson spent two months in the Pinal County Adult Detention Center before being taken to a hospital for better medical care and eventually released from custody altogether.
In phone calls, she was eager to fight the 29 child abuse charges she was facing. "This should be fun, knocking them down one by one," said a confident Hobson.
Investigators say Hobson was incredibly abusive. In court documents they accuse her of pepper spraying, starving, isolating, and even pinching the genitals of her seven adopted kids.
Detectives allege much of the abuse was tied to the kids' performances in videos for the family's "Fantastic Adventures" YouTube channel, which had millions of views and generated tens of thousands of dollars.
"They loved making the videos," said Hobson, while discussing the charges with her father. "In fact, I would be like, 'Okay, if you’re in trouble, next week you can’t be in the videos. And that would be encouraging to them, not to be in trouble.'"
Hobson never admitted to, or even hinted at, any wrongdoing on the more than two hours of recorded phone conversations.
"I raised those kids, so you tell me I am this horrible vicious person? Let's go to court and play this out because I've got documentation and they don't," she said.
Hobson’s two adult, biological sons, Ryan and Logan Hackney, were initially arrested and charged with seven counts of “failing to report the abuse of a minor.”
In the report, police said, “Logan admitted the children were locked in the closet for long periods as punishment.” He also said he saw physical injuries and heard kids “screaming and crying,” according to detectives.
"They dismissed the charges yesterday from Logan and Ryan," said Hobson's father, on a call.
"All of them?" she replied.
"All of them."
What dominates the phone conversations though, is Hobson's rapidly declining health. "I am still in medical and I am still as sick as can be," she says when asking about improving. "They have no clue what’s wrong with me and no clue what to do."
It is still unclear what medical condition Hobson was suffering from, but she told her father she lost 65 pounds in a matter of weeks and would go days without eating due to stomach pain and nausea.
"I'm already so weak it's hard to stand up," she said. "I'm pretty sure my kidneys are going to go out anytime if they don't do something."
"Why hasn’t anybody leaked the fact that I am dying in this freakin’ [jail] hospital?" she asked at one point, upset with the medical treatment and media coverage.
"They better figure it out, because they are going to be transporting me to a hospital if they don't," she said on another phone call.
The prediction came true. Two months after being booked, deputies were transporting her to a hospital due to a "natural medical event."
"I will win the case," said Hobson. The mother alluded to having evidence or a strategy that she was confident would free her of the charges, but never went into detail on the phone because she knew the calls were being monitored.
"I have a whammy that the state of Arizona is going to be shocked at...proving them that they’re credentials are wrong. Discrediting them."
Hobson never had the chance to tell her side of the story or pushback on the allegations in court. "I can't really share any of the information that I have."
The Pinal County Attorney's Office says that while Hobson will not stand trial, the case is not completely over. Ken Volkmer says the two adult sons could still face charges.