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A Tennessee woman was sentenced to life in prison with the possibility of parole for the murders of her four children.
Shanynthia Gardner, 34, was charged with killing four of her five children at their southeast Shelby County apartment on July 1, 2016, according to Shelby County District Attorney Amy Weirich. On Tuesday, the judge sentenced her to life for each murder count and 15 years for each additional count of child abuse and neglect related to the children's deaths.
“The sentences for all of them will run concurrently with one another, so her effective sentence is life with the possibility of parole, which is 51 years,” Chief Prosecutor Eric Christensen told WREG 3.
The he children’s father, Martin Gardner, was present at the sentencing hearing, the station also reported.
“It was important for us to get justice for Martin Gardner and his four beautiful children,” Christensen said in the statement. “We returned a photo album to him that was taken into evidence. He was very emotional and said that’s all he had left, but that he’s glad she can’t hurt any more children.”
The Gardners' son Tallen, 4, and daughters Sya, 3, Sahvi, 2, and Yazhi, 5 months, were found dead after suffering “severe stab wounds,” according to the statement. Two children were found in a bedroom, while another two were discovered in the living room — where the youngest was dead in her car seat.
The eldest child, a 7-year-old boy, escaped the home and ran to get help from a neighbor. After the surviving child alerted the neighbor, they reported seeing his mother exit the apartment with a large knife in her hand before turning back into the home, according to CBS affiliate WREG 3. (In 2016, People reported that the 7-year-old boy did not share the same father as his four siblings.)
Shanynthia Gardner allegedly spoke to her husband, Martin, on the phone before police arrived and confessed to killing their children.
She was on the scene when authorities with the local sheriff’s office arrived and found the bodies of four of her children inside the apartment.
The defense argued that Shanynthia Gardner should be found not guilty by reason of insanity. They cited a March 2015 incident during which she had been “feeling that someone is trying to harm her and her family,” according to a police report obtained by Commercial Appeal. She allegedly left work early to pick up the children, eventually calling her husband, Martin Gardner, late at night from Corinth, Mississippi — about 100 miles away — where she had no apparent ties to family or friends.
Prosecutors agreed that she had a mental disease but argued she still knew the difference between right and wrong.
“Our position from day one is that she has a mental disease, but we’ve always felt that she could appreciate the wrongfulness of her actions,” said Christensen. “Our goal was to get justice for those four babies — Tallen, Sya, Sahvi, and Yazhi.”
Criminal Court Judge James Lammey Jr. rejected the insanity defense in December and found Shanynthia Gardner guilty on four counts each of premeditated first-degree murder, aggravated child abuse, murder in the perpetration of aggravated child abuse, aggravated child neglect involving a deadly weapon, and murder in the perpetration of aggravated child neglect involving a deadly weapon.
Many, including the 7-year-old's grandmother, said they would forgive the mother of five.
“I forgive her,” said Sonya Clayton. “I know this was not her. I know this was the work of the devil.”
The children’s father also seemed to forgive his wife while speaking at the children’s funeral, according to Commercial Appeal.
“She was a beautiful woman, you understand me?” said Martin Gardner. “It was a happy home. We were happy. Our children were happy. That’s who she is. That’s who we are.”
Crediting five years of time served, Gardner will be 80 when she becomes eligible for parole.
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