Smyrna mother whose kids died in hot car pleads guilty to lesser charges
SMYRNA, TN (WSMV) -
The Smyrna mother whose two toddlers died in a hot car in 2012 was sentenced to 16 years in jail after accepting a plea deal on Wednesday.
Samantha Harper was charged with two counts of felony murder and aggravated child neglect for leaving her 2-year-old daughter and 3-year-old son in her parked car in August 2012.
Prosecutors say they believe Harper stayed up the night before, playing video games. They say when the children were in the car, she walked inside, fell asleep and did not check on the children for three hours.
"She was not taking care of her kids," said Assistant District Attorney Laural Hemenway. "She had no job and she had no excuse. Playing video games all night and you are a young mother and have two children is definitely wrong. On every moral purpose that's wrong."
At first, investigators thought Harper may have left the kids inside the vehicle in their car seats, but an autopsy revealed that wasn't the case. The children died from overheating.
"I confirmed with the father that the little boy did know how to open the car door from the outside, but didn't know how to open it from the inside," Hemenway said.
In court on Wednesday, Harper pleaded guilty to reduced charges of attempted aggravated child neglect.
She was sentenced to 16 years in jail and needs to serve at least eight. If Harper violates parole during the remainder of her term, she'll have to serve the full 16 years.
Harper is not allowed to have contact with children or the father of her deceased children during this 16-year period.
Harper didn't have much to say as she was taken back to jail in handcuffs Wednesday.
Her mother, who cashed out her 401k to bond her daughter out of jail after the arrest, said the sentence was unfair and unjust.
"I've taken a different prospective on our justice system. It isn't good. It isn't right at all," said Annie Harper.
It was also revealed in court that the Department of Children's Services had been called to the home several times after the children got outside on their own. Samantha Harper put locks on the door out of the children's reach, but her son still manage to unlock the door and get out.
"She's very innocent of what happened. If it had been a cool day, they would have survived," Annie Harper said.
If Samantha Harper had of taken her chance at trial and lost, she could have faced 15 to 20 years in prison.
She will have to serve 30-percent of the eight year sentence, and with the time she's already served, she could be up for parole in two years or less.
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