Common Pleas Court Judge Eamon Costello noted Jessica "Nikki" Carter's remorse and lack of criminal history. But he pointed out that parents Jennifer and Jeffrey Hagmeier had warned Carter to not leave blankets in the crib when their son, Noah, was sleeping.
According to prosecutors, Noah was in his portable crib May 19 with four blankets and a comforter when he was found face down surrounded by the blankets. A coroner ruled that he died of asphyxia. Pediatricians and child safety experts warn that babies should always be placed on their back in a crib with no blankets, pillows, toys or other objects in the crib.
"If I had to speculate, my guess is that you were being pulled in a lot of different directions at one time," Costello said.
Carter, 35, agreed in April to plead no contest to a charge of attempted child endangering, a fourth-degree felony. In exchange, a charge of reckless homicide was dismissed.
Carter was ordered to report on Monday to the Tri-County Regional Jail in Mechanicsburg. After her release, she must complete 80 hours of community service to include warning daycare operators about the dangers of leaving blankets in cribs with unattended babies.
Carter, of London, wept throughout the hearing, turning at one point to tell the Hagmeiers that she was sorry and "didn't know this was going to happen."
Mrs. Hagmeier told Costello that she had another son with cerebral palsy at the daycare that day who may have seen the aftermath of his brother's death.
"I don't know exactly what he saw," she said. "But for months he was afraid to vomit. He thought for sure if he did that he would die."
She said she trusted Carter and bragged about her to friends, even the day before Noah's death.
"I like her. My kids loved her. And I trusted her completely."
A year later, she said, "We don't trust anyone anymore because we are not sure we are making good decisions."
Carter's attorney, Michael J. Murray, said he was prepared to defend her but that taking the case to trial would have been too costly the family and likely would have hurt their already damaged reputation.
Carter's mother-in-law, Merrilee Lohmann, said after the hearing that Carter "was born to be a mother and a caretaker. She loved all those children."
Part of the sentencing also requires Carter to notify future parents of children she may care for the circumstances of her being a convicted felon.
Mrs. Hagmeier said outside the courthouse that she was satisfied with Carter's punishment, even though it cannot bring her son back.
"This was not a 16-year-old who never babysat before and didn't know any better."
The community has since rallied around Noah's death to raise thousands of dollars for a playground in Noah's memory.
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