PROVO, Utah (AP) — A mother who killed six of her newborn babies and hid their bodies in her garage was sentenced to up to life in prison Monday at an emotional hearing in which a prosecutor depicted her as an "incredibly indifferent and callous" murderer.
The judge imposed a sentence against Megan Huntsman that went beyond what was called for in a plea deal because he was so repelled by the killings. Judge Darold McDade said that he heard about the case before it came to his courtroom and hoped it wouldn't be assigned to him.
Huntsman, 40, told police she was too addicted to methamphetamine to care for more children during the decade when the babies were killed. Police said she concealed her pregnancies, gave birth at home and choked and strangled the children with her own hands just minutes after they were born. She killed six babies, and a seventh body of a newborn found in her garage was found to be stillborn.
Police found the bodies wrapped in cloth, put in plastic bags and packed into boxes. She eventually moved out of the house and left the decomposing remains behind. She thought about moving the bodies, but said she couldn't think of a way to do it without getting caught.
It remains unclear how Huntsman concealed the pregnancies, births and murders from family members and friends.
"These were very cold, calculated killings," prosecutor Jeff Buhman. "She was a woman who was remarkably, unbelievably, incredibly indifferent and callous."
Family members sobbed in the courtroom as Pleasant Grove police Detective Dan Beckstrom spoke about the killings.
He said the first body was discovered by one of the couple's daughters as she cleaned out the garage with her father, Darren West, shortly after he finished an eight-year federal prison stint on meth charges in April 2014. He lived with Huntsman during the decade when the babies were killed, but police have said they aren't investigating him in the deaths.
Huntsman has three surviving children, and Huntsman opted to not kill one of them because people found out about the pregnancy, Buhman said.
Still, her family painted a picture of a shy, quiet person in a bad marriage who didn't know how to speak up for herself but was a good mother to her three other children.
Huntsman said in a statement she couldn't explain the deaths to herself. She could be seen dabbing at her eyes during the hearing, but she showed little other visible emotion.
"I know I didn't feel strong enough to be a mother to those tiny babies, and in some small way I wanted to help them avoid the terrible life I would have given them," said defense attorney Anthony Howell, reading from a letter she wrote.
Sister Jamie Huntsman read letters from two of Huntsman's other children, who described their mother as smiling and laughing.
"This is not the mom I know," she read. "I remember the mom I know, the one that made dinner for us every night, cleaned our house and loved not only her kids but kids in general."
The description contrasted sharply with new details revealed by police Monday.
Buhman said she gave birth at home, twice when other people were in the house.
"She made sure the bathroom, or the bedroom, was cleaned before anyone got home and the baby was wrapped up quickly and thoroughly and stored in the garage before anyone would know," Buhman said.
Over the years, she could smell their decomposing bodies in the garage but never moved them, he said.
West spoke briefly to reporters outside the courtroom Monday, saying that the details about the babies' deaths were difficult to hear.
She agreed to plead guilty rather than go to trial under an agreement that reduced her minimum possible sentence to five years but left fewer options for appeal. Prosecutors said it would have been hard to prove the case against her at trial if she hadn't cooperated with police.
McDade departed from that deal Monday, giving Huntsman a longer minimum sentence. "I really thought I'd seen it all until this case came along," he said.
A parole board will make the final decision on how much time Huntsman spends in prison.
The sentence brings closure to a case that shocked residents of Pleasant Grove, the mostly Mormon community about 35 miles south of Salt Lake City where Huntsman stored her babies' tiny bodies for more than a decade.