NEWARK - A federal judge has sentenced a former Army major to probation and his wife to two years in a New Jersey child abuse case in which they were convicted on multiple counts of abusing their three foster children.

The sentences Tuesday amounted to a rebuke to the prosecution, which had sought 15½ to 19½ years for John and Carolyn Jackson.

Prosecutors presented evidence that the three toddlers were severely underweight and suffered broken bones, and were forced to eat hot pepper flakes and drink hot sauce as punishment. One died, though the Jacksons weren't charged with his death.

Judge Katharine Hayden cited Army Maj. John Jackson's military record and the fact he didn't participate directly in the abuse. She agreed that Carolyn Jackson endangered the children's welfare.

Previously, the couple’s biological son told a judge that his parents should get the maximum sentence for the abuse.

The son described watching the toddlers suffer and said the effects of the abuse "will last the rest of our lives." It was his disclosure to a family friend that ultimately led to his parents' arrest.

The Jacksons deserved the maximum sentence so that "they suffer just as much" as their children did, he told U.S. District Judge Katharine Hayden Tuesday.

John Jackson was an Army major at Picatinny Arsenal in northwestern New Jersey when the abuse occurred. He was administratively separated from the Army in April, according to the U.S. attorney's office.

Defense attorneys argued during the trial that the Jacksons' child-rearing methods might have been objectionable but they didn't constitute crimes, and that the foster children had pre-existing health problems.

The Jacksons' first trial in 2014 ended when the judge declared a mistrial after a prosecutor, while questioning a witness, referred to the fact that one of the children had died.

The judge had previously ruled that the boy's death could not be introduced during the trial since the defendants were not charged directly with his death.

The Associated Press wire services contributed to this report.