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Dutch mother gets 3 years in prison for killing four newborn babies

NIJ BEETS, NETHERLANDS (BNO NEWS) – An appeals court in the Netherlands on Thursday reduced the sentence of a woman from 12 to 3 years for killing her four newborn babies between 2003 and 2009, prosecutors said. She will also be sent to a clinic for psychiatric treatment.

Sietske H., now 27, was arrested in August 2010 after the bodies of four newborn babies were found in the attic of her home in Nij Beets, a village of nearly 1,700 people in the Dutch province of Friesland. The investigation had begun several months earlier after someone contacted police and said the woman may have had pregnancies in the past.

H., whose last name has been withheld by prosecutors, was initially convicted and sentenced to 12 years in prison in May 2011. But during the second part of an appeal, H. agreed to cooperate with a behavioral study and brain research which revealed she was born with a congenital brain abnormality, causing or at least adding to her personality disorder.

"It was determined that the accused has a personality disorder which is in connection or caused by a cerebral organic disease, namely a frontal lobe disorder, and that this disorder resulted in the accused, compared to a healthy person, being significantly less able to oversee the problems she saw and making the choices to deal with them," the Leeuwarden appeals court said in its verdict.

As a result, the court believes H. cannot be held fully accountable for her actions and reduced her sentence from 12 to 3 years in prison. But the court also sentenced her to involuntary psychiatric treatment known as TBS in Dutch criminal law, meaning she will be sent to a special TBS clinic after serving her sentence.

TBS, which literally means 'being placed at disposal', is served at special clinics and is for an indefinite time to allow psychiatric treatment. The court evaluates conclusions made by TBS clinics every few years to determine if those being held should be released back into society, though when someone can not be treated the convict will usually remain at so-called "long-stay wards" for the rest of their lives.

"To prevent a relapse the experts deem long-term treatment and guidance necessary," the court added in its verdict. "The court convicts the suspect of four counts of child manslaughter and sentences her to a prison sentence of three years and also orders TBS with treatment."

H. was not convicted of murder because prosecutors could not prove she had planned the murders. She had been questioned by investigators several times after someone came forward about her possible pregnancies, and H. gave various statements about what had happened to her children, including a story in which she said she gave the children away for adoption.

"She was asked to prove this which she couldn't," Dutch prosecutor Annette Bronsvoort said in August 2010. "Eventually a moment came where she said; 'those babies are not alive anymore [and] they are probably in the attic.'"

This statement was reason for police to immediately conduct a search of her house where she lived with her parents who were not aware of their daughter's pregnancies. A number of goods were seized during the search, including several suitcases which revealed the bodies of four newborn babies.

When the court first sentenced her in May 2011, prosecutors said H. had killed her children out of fear because she felt a need to be "the perfect daughter" for her parents. She was sentenced to the maximum term of 12 years in prison because she refused to cooperate with the psychological investigation to avoid being sent to TBS.

"This involves gruesome facts in which a completely defenseless baby was killed by their own mother with a pillow, but sometimes also with bare hands," the court said in May 2011. "It is a mystery why the suspect - after killing her first child - allowed to become pregnant three more times."

The court noted at the time that contraceptives are easily available and, even when it leads to a pregnancy, H. could have considered options such as an abortion or adoption. "Outstanding is the (fact that) suspect repeatedly had unprotected sex with the father of the children," the court said, adding that the four babies all had the same father.

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