Jessica Botzko, whose children have been taken away from her twice by authorities in 10 years, tearfully told a judge in Lucas County Common Pleas Court that she was a mother who made "bad choices" and was not a monster.
Botzko, 28, was sentenced to four years in prison yesterday after being found guilty of child endangering. She pleaded no contest last month for her involvement in the long-term abuse of her sons that included locking the older boy in an animal cage.
Her boyfriend and the father of her two children, John Westover, 37, will go to trial on criminal endangering charges Oct. 23.
"I'm grateful for being in jail for the past five months. Being here has really opened my eyes to the pain I was causing my children and the pain they will endure in the future," Botzko told Judge Linda Jennings in a statement often interrupted by sobs. "I wrote this letter to you for hope you see I'm not a criminal," she said. "I'm just a mother who loves my boys. I'm a mother who has made bad choices."
Westover and Botzko were arrested in early May, the day after their young sons, then 5 and 10, fled their mobile home in search of help.
Authorities searched the mobile home at 3019 Nebraska Ave. and found filthy conditions and an animal cage and training collar, both allegedly used on the older boy as punishment for misbehavior.
Police also contend the older boy was caged when their father was involved in using illegal drugs.
Both parents were originally charged with two counts of endangering children and one count of possessing criminal tools. After sentencing Botzko yesterday, Judge Jennings dismissed one child-endangering count and the criminal-tools charge against the woman.
Judge Jennings assured Botzko that she listened to her statement and read letters from friends who wrote on Botzko's behalf. She then pointed out the harm Botzko had caused her children.
"It is inconceivable to me that a mother would treat her children this way," the judge said. "Children depend on their parents You have caused them serious physical and emotional harm."
The boys have been in a foster family's care pending a custody hearing. Botzko's attorney, Ann Baronas, said yesterday she was not aware that custody had been resolved.
The endangering charges Westover faces stem from both caging his son and manufacturing drugs in front of both children. The criminal-tools charge relates to the dog collar.
Assistant Prosecutor Louis Kountouris said during Botzko's plea hearing that she was aware of the cage and collar punishments Westover is accused of using on her sons. Mr. Kountouris declined to comment further pending Westover's trial.
The recent encounter with law enforcement and Lucas County Children Services was not Botzko's first.
In 1998, county workers took her then 18-month-old son from Botzko's South Toledo home after the boy was seen wandering alone on the street and she was found sleeping at home. The child was returned to her custody after a long process that involved caseworkers and the courts.
Three years ago, the family was found living in filth in a Maumee motel. Police reported finding the couple's room at the Economy Inn on Dussel Drive to have a toilet overflowing with feces, urine odors, moldy food, knee-high garbage, dirty diapers, and insulin needles scattered throughout.
Westover was charged with misdemeanor child endangering in that case.
Ms. Baronas said after yesterday's hearing that her client wanted to accept responsibility for her "actions and inactions."
"She knows she's deserving of punishment," Ms. Baronas said, adding that "every mother loves her child."
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