Judge Michael DiReda told Jewell Hendricks he knows first-hand how challenging it can be to be a parent to twins.
He and his wife literally sobbed together after long stretches without sleep, wondering how they could raise the children.
But there was no explanation, he said Friday, for the "poor decision" Hendricks made to smother one of her infant, twin sons to death in a sleeping bag on Jan. 24, 2010.
"The devastation you have caused your family, yourself and your surviving child, Daniel ... It's incomprehensible," the 2nd District judge said.
Calling it a case full of "profound sorrow," DiReda ordered the 27-year-old to serve 15 years to life in prison for murder
, a first-degree felony. The judge said he can't imagine one of his children without the other and questioned the impact on the surviving twin when he realizes what happened.
"This day, I don't doubt that you will judge yourself more harshly than anyone in this court, including me
," DiReda told Hendricks, who was quietly crying. "I hope, with time, you will find some measure of forgiveness."
Hendricks' attorney, Ryan Bushell, said his client is "25 going on 14" mentally and was struggling with post-partum depression and the strain of raising infants sons
when she made the decision to put her 2-month-old son, Robert, in a sleeping bag and smother him.
"Two colicky babies with lack of sleep, lack of help ... One night it all came down to, 'I can't do this' and something inside of her snapped,"
Bushell said. "She made a decision that will haunt her for the rest of her life. ... She did it in a desperate move to get him to stop crying."
"She's not cold-hearted," said Philip Hendricks, the woman's husband and father of the twins. "She inspired people. She inspired me to graduate high school. ... Without her, I wouldn't be here."
June Morgan, who raised Jewell Hendricks, said the woman had a hard life, losing her mother at a young age, suffering physical and sexual abuse and receiving little guidance on how to parent.
"Jewell didn't learn how to be a mother," Morgan said. "But she tried. We adore her. We hate what happened, but it did happen."
Jewell Hendricks thanked Bushell and the judge and told DiReda she would have to live with her decision her entire life. "Things do go wrong, people do make mistakes and we do learn from them," she said.
Prosecutor Dean Saunders said he understands Hendricks was struggling, but that didn't change the fact that she killed a young child.
"We realize she had some mental health issues, but that doesn't excuse what she did," Saunders said. "This was a person who was functioning, who knew right from wrong. I'm not saying she was a cold-blooded killer, but this was a conscious decision on her part."
In exchange for Hendricks' guilty plea, prosecutors agreed to write a letter to the Utah Board of Pardons and Parole asking that Hendricks serve 15 years in prison
. DiReda said he will also write a letter asking that she be given credit for the 500-plus days she has been in jail awaiting a resolution
in the case.
Saunders said the other twin, Daniel, was taken into foster care following Robert's death and has since been adopted. Both Jewell and Philip Hendricks relinquished their parental rights to the child.
Last year, a detective testified that Hendricks confessed to squeezing her son hard enough to break his collar bone, then rolled his body into a sleeping bag and laid on top of him to make him stop crying. "She said having twins was too much to handle and explained that she loved Daniel more … and it was her intent to have a better life and kill Robert," Ogden police detective Brian Eynon testified.
But Bushell said Friday that was not true and his client never loved one twin more than the other.
"I loved (Robert) no matter what," Hendricks said in court.