Two Kalispell women have been sentenced to the Montana Women’s Prison after admitting that they had locked children in a basement on multiple occasions earlier this year.
Amy Lynn Newman and Crystal Marie Mears both pleaded guilty to two counts each of criminal endangerment earlier this year and were sentenced on Nov. 18 in Flathead County District Court. Newman, the adoptive mother of the victims, was sentenced to eight years in prison with three suspended and Mears was given six years with three suspended.
The sentencing hearing began on Nov. 10 when the court heard from five of the adopted children who testified about abuse that went far beyond being locked in a basement. After two hours of testimony, Judge Robert Allison decided he wanted to study a dependent neglect case that had been filed against Newman before sentencing the two women.
According to court documents, Newman and Mears locked two boys, ages 9 and 11, in a basement every night with only a bucket to go to the bathroom. In March, after four children were removed from the home, the Kalispell Police Department searched the home and found numerous locks on the basement door, including padlocks and zip ties.
When the sentencing hearing resumed on Nov. 18, Mears and Newman made statements about their version of the events. Mears, 37, described a chaotic but loving household and said that it was never the women’s intentions to hurt the kids but rather “correct” bad behavior.
“Amy was at her wit’s end with the children’s behavior,” Mears said.
Mears also said that officials from Child Protective Services had come to the house and knew about the locks on the basement door but never said anything about it.
During the change of plea hearing earlier this year, Newman, 46, testified that she locked the boys in the basement because they were a danger to the rest of the family. She said one of them had tried to choke his sister with cat litter and another tried to set the house on fire. On Nov. 18, she stood by that testimony.
“All I’ve ever wanted to do is make life better for my children,” she said, holding back tears. “My only concern has been to keep all of these children safe and if I have hurt them in any way I am deeply sorry.”
But Deputy County Attorney Howard Alison Howard questioned the sincerity of the two women’s statements.
“What enrages me the most about this case is that this is the first time either of these two woman have showed any remorse for what they’ve done,” Howard said.
Howard noted that since the five children were removed from Newman’s home their lives have improved greatly. Howard then recommended a three-year deferred sentence that had been agreed upon in the plea agreement. Defense attorneys Sean Hinchey and Tim Wenz backed the deferred sentenced and urged the judge to only sentence the two women for the crime they pleaded guilty to.
Just before heading down his sentence, Judge Allison said it was one of the toughest cases he had ever had to consider. He said he spent hours reviewing the evidence and the law before making his decision to sentence the women to prison.
“The physical conditions that these children were subjected to is comparable to a prison cell, but even a prison cell is better than what these kids had,” he said. “At least a cell has a light and a toilet.”
Following the hearing, Mears’ attorney said they were disappointed with the outcome.
“Based on the allegations set forth by the prosecutor in the information, we feel this sentence is inappropriate,” Wenz said.