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Woman pleads guilty in 3 sons’ deaths, sentenced to 37 years

BELLEFONTAINE, Ohio (AP) — An Ohio woman accused of suffocating her three sons out of jealousy at the attention given them by her husband — who was once her mother’s boyfriend — pleaded guilty Tuesday in the boys’ deaths and was sentenced to 37 years in prison.

Defendant Brittany Pilkington had been scheduled for trial early next year. The guilty pleas to involuntary manslaughter and murder took the death penalty off the table. Pilkington’s 3-month-old son, Noah, was found dead in August 2015 in the couple's apartment in Bellefontaine, in western Ohio. A 4-year-old son, Gavin, had died in April 2015, and another infant, Niall, had died in July 2014.

The Bellefontaine woman confessed the day Noah was found to killing the boys, saying she was jealous of the attention her husband paid to their sons but not to her and their daughter, Logan County prosecutors said.

Pilkington initially pleaded not guilty to aggravated murder charges. Prosecutors had sought genetic testing for Pilkington to rule out genetic disorders as a cause of death for the three boys. Judge Mark Connor ordered that Pilkington’s sentences run back to back because of the seriousness of the crimes, a move advocated by prosecutors.

Logan County Prosecutor Eric Stewart said the sentence would bring “justice and closure to this tragic case and protect the community from the defendant.” He noted that one of the state’s own experts said the death penalty wasn’t appropriate due to Pilkington’s “mental defects.”

Pilkington, 27, suffered lead poisoning as a child followed by years of physical and sexual abuse with no intervention by authorities, said Kort Gatterdam, one of her attorneys. Her parents, social service agencies and schools all failed to protect her, he said. A scan identified brain damage.

“Sadly, she’s safer living a better life in jail than on the outside,” Gatterdam said, calling his client “irreparably damaged.” Attorney Tina McFall, reading a statement on behalf of Pilkington, said she “loves and misses all of her children and grieves for them every day.”

Pilkington’s husband, Joseph Pilkington, pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of sexual imposition for having sex with his wife before they were married, when she was underage. He originally was charged with sexual battery for beginning a sexual relationship with Pilkington, who was two decades younger, and impregnating her in 2009, when she was 17.

He’d had a romantic relationship with Pilkington’s mother prior to that, and his indictment indicated he had been living with Pilkington as a sort of stepfather for years. He wasn’t a suspect in the boys’ deaths.

The Associated Press generally doesn't name people who are victims of sexual assault but is identifying Brittany Pilkington because her name and image were widely published following her arrest in the deaths of her three sons.

Noah died less than a week after he was returned from protective custody on a judge's order. A prosecutor said authorities didn't have any evidence of a crime in the earlier deaths, and no one could have predicted the remaining son would die.

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