A prosecutor said the children, ages 5, 6 and 8, were crammed into the boxes as punishment June 16 at the family home in Steubenville while the parents went to the grocery store and left two uncles at home with them. A friend of the family arrived at the house, got the children out of the boxes and contacted police.
Their father, James Taylor, pleaded guilty Tuesday to two counts of child endangerment and one count of unlawful restraint. The plea deal calls for a year in jail. His wife, Samantha Taylor, the children's stepmother, pleaded guilty to the same charges and likely will serve two years of probation.
The clerk's office said a sentencing date for the pair has not been set.
The two uncles pleaded guilty to unlawful restraint and were sentenced to a year of probation. Prosecutors said they helped put the children in the boxes, with one of them cutting the air holes.
Authorities said the children were in the boxes for about 15 to 30 minutes, with square holes cut out of the lids to expose the top part of their faces. There was no indication they had been put in the boxes before, but Jefferson County prosecutor Jeffrey J. Bruzzese said it was part of a cycle of abuse by the parents that included having weights dropped on their feet.
Bruzzese said it was apparent that water was dumped on top of the children while they were restrained in the totes. All the punishment was meted out at James Taylor's direction, the prosecutor said.
Bruzzese told WTOV-TV that the children are now living with relatives and doing well. He did not return a call to The Associated Press on Wednesday.
Steubenville is on the Ohio-West Virginia border, about 150 miles east of Columbus.