Jennifer Grant stared down at the floor, sobbing. The 34-year-old mother had left her two young children alone in their Rosedale townhouse for more than three hours last Oct. 17. And they perished in a house fire.
"If I knew this would happen, I would have never walked through that door," she tearfully told a Baltimore County judge yesterday.
Ms. Grant appeared in Circuit Court to be sentenced for two counts of reckless endangerment relating to the deaths of her children, Chakia Hall, 3, and 17-month-old Shakir.
The girl and her baby brother died of smoke inhalation in the upstairs master bedroom of the house in the 6100 block of St. Regis Road, where their mother had left them.
Judge Thomas Bollinger gave Ms. Grant a suspended prison sentence and placed her unsupervised probation for three years.
He said he agreed with attorneys in the case that the woman did not plan for her children to die, and that she poses no danger to society.
"It is my feeling, regretfully," the judge said, "that she will have a ghost on each shoulder supervising her for the rest of her life.
"I don't really believe that the defendant wished to harm her children," Judge Bollinger said. "Nor do I believe that she represents any future risk to society."
Ms. Grant, who could have received a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison and a $10,000 fine, pleaded guilty to two counts of reckless endangerment March 19 as part of a plea bargain.
Scott Shellenberger, an assistant state's attorney, said he was willing to drop the more serious charges of manslaughter because Ms. Grant is so remorseful.
Christopher M. Davis, Ms. Grant's attorney, told Judge Bollinger that his client, who now lives in Hyattsville, has been in treatment at the Prince George's County Mental Health Clinic.
Mr. Davis noted that Ms. Grant had never been convicted of a crime, had worked at responsible jobs and is now suffering intense remorse.
"Overall," Mr. Davis said, "it's very, very clear that Ms. Grant was a good mother and she made a very tragic mistake. And now she's paying for it."
According to the court record, Ms. Grant left her home about 12:40 p.m. the day of the fire to keep an appointment at Union Memorial Hospital. She left the children in the bedroom with the television on.
She told police at the time that she had been unable to find a baby sitter.
Ms. Grant returned to the house about 4 p.m, roughly 40 minutes after the fire was discovered.
Fire officials said the blaze probably was set by one of the children playing with matches.