BELLEFONTAINE, Ohio (AP) – A mother accused of killing her three sons was dominated and isolated by her husband, a man nearly twice her age who had been her own mother’s live-in boyfriend before they married, authorities said Wednesday.
Investigators believe Brittany Pilkington used each boy’s comfort blanket to suffocate them in their crib or bed over the last 13 months, because she wanted her husband to pay more attention to herself and their 3-year-old daughter, Logan County Prosecutor William Goslee said.
Pilkington, 23, is jailed on murder charges in all three deaths, including her 3-month-old son Noah, who died Tuesday, less than a week after he was returned from protective custody on a judge’s order.
Goslee said he won’t likely seek the death penalty because of the background of Brittany Pilkington, including the fact she had been dominated by her husband Joseph Pilkington, 43, who had been her “semi-stepfather” at one point. Goslee said she apparently feared how the boys would grow up, and described her daughter Hailey as her only friend.
“It was her plan to eliminate male children in order that this father would have more attention available for her and for Hailey the daughter,” Goslee said. “That’s a fact.”
Her uncle, Joe Skaggs, was furious that a judge ordered the surviving children returned to the couple last week.
“Why would you give them back after a little boy just died and when you’re in the middle of an investigation?” Skaggs, standing in front of his niece’s apartment, told The Columbus Dispatch on Tuesday.
But Goslee said Wednesday they didn’t have any evidence of a crime in the earlier deaths, and no one could have predicted Pilkington would kill her remaining son.
“Everybody that is involved in this is truly emotionally distraught – including myself, quite honestly – and it isn’t because the system failed,” Goslee said. “It’s because this child is dead. This was not a foreseeable event.”
The Associated Press left messages seeking comment from the attorneys who represented the Pilkingtons in the protective custody case as well as Logan County Family Court Judge Dan Bratka, whose ruling sent Noah and Hailey home.
The Pilkingtons were married in March 2010, when she was 18 and he was 38, and Gavin was born that June. Their other three children were born in quick succession.
Authorities had not been sure what caused the death of 3-month-old Niall Pilkington in July 2014, which was attributed to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. After 4-year-old Gavin died in April, their daughter Hailey and the newborn boy, Noah, were taken into custody with Logan County Children’s Services pending an investigation.
Then on Tuesday, Noah was dead as well.
Joseph Pilkington, now 43, is not a suspect in the murders, Police Chief Brandon Standley said.
He came home from his job on a night shift Tuesday and tried in vain to revive Noah as Brittany Pilkington called 911 yet again from their home in Bellefontaine.
“He’s not breathing,” Brittany Pilkington was recorded saying each time in a childlike voice.
“Gavin, wake up!” her husband shouted in April. Their daughter could be heard, too, repeating that her brother had become “white.”
On Tuesday, a sleep apnea monitor pinged repeatedly as Joseph Pilkington shouted “Noah, what’s going on?” and Brittany quietly responded to the dispatcher’s questions. “I imagine he’s probably bluish right now,” she said.
The prosecutor said investigators obtained her confession after noticing her “flat” reaction to the deaths.
“I clumsily said, ‘How are you today?’ I would’ve expected some other kind of reaction, and she looked at me and she said, ‘Fine,'” Goslee said.
The boys died because their mother decided to suffocate them, not because children’s services or the legal system somehow failed, the prosecutor insisted. The judge feels devastated, and a staff attorney who had tried to keep the surviving children away from their parents was weeping at her desk Tuesday night.
That attorney, Natasha Wagner, said they all felt something was wrong in the family but couldn’t prove it. A doctor had testified that some genetic condition might be to blame, and said the children appeared to be neglected.
But in the end, police, prosecutor and child advocates agreed they had no clear sign of foul play to justify keeping the children from their parents.
“How do you prove a gut feeling when the evidence is not there?” Wagner asked Wednesday.
She said she feels terrible, but concluded that she had done everything she could.
“I fought very hard for this child,” she said. “Because of me and because of the agency, this child lived to be 3 months old.”
Melanie Engle, executive director of Logan County Children’s Services, said the agency pushed as hard as it could, and called for state law to be changed to make intervention easier in cases of multiple deaths.
“Unfortunately a gut feeling isn’t evidence,” Engle said.
The police chief said the two earlier deaths were suspicious, but “we can’t base our jobs on fiction or opinion. We deal with evidence and facts.”
Associated Press reporters Mitch Stacy and Kantele Franko in Columbus contributed to this report.
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