BELLEFONTAINE — A Logan County woman charged with killing her three sons over a 13-month period took a plea deal Tuesday, one that removed a possible death sentence.
After spending more than four years in the Logan County jail awaiting trial, 27-year-old Brittany Pilkington pleaded guilty to two counts of murder and one count of involuntary manslaughter. Visiting Logan County Common Pleas Court Judge Mark S. O’Connor immediately sentenced her to life in prison. She will not be eligible for parole for at least 37 years, when she would be 64.
One of her attorneys read a statement on her behalf as Pilkington wiped tears that fell from her chin, the first time she has shown any visible emotion in court since the beginning.
“Brittany loves and misses all of her children, and she grieves for them every day,” attorney Tina McFall said.
Pilkington had originally been charged with three counts of aggravated murder for the deaths of 3-month-old Niall in July 22, 2014; 4-year-old Gavin on April 6, 2015; and 3-month-old Noah on August 18, 2015.
In a taped confession to investigators the day that Noah died, she said she had smothered all three boys because their father paid more attention to them than he did to her and the couple’s daughter. A judge eventually threw out part of the confession that related to Niall, and Pilkington has at times said she rolled over on him and that his death was an accident.
That made the involuntary manslaughter charge appropriate for negotiations when it came time to finally bring a resolution, Logan County Prosecutor Eric Stewart said.
In court, Dave Grimes tearfully read a statement on behalf of him and his wife, Judy, who are raising their niece, Pilkington’s daughter, now 8.
“Brittany has robbed us all of the chance to watch three beautiful boys grow up,” he said. And he brought the courtoom to tears as he said that recently, when Hailey’s fish died, “She asked us if that meant she would be a bad mom when she grows up.”
This case has lingered for years as defense attorneys argued that Pilkington’s lifelong history of her own sexual abuse and repeated traumas had, at the very least, rendered her unable to comprehend the significance of either what had happened or the consequences of her confession, which they have always argued was coerced. Later, defense attorney Kort W. Gatterdam argued also that Pilkington’s history of trauma and her low mental functioning makes her ineligible for the death penalty.
At the hearing Tuesday, Gatterdam again ticked off the list of horrific trauma Pilkington has endured.
“Brittany’s brain is broken,” he said. “And no one ever helped her.”
Pilkington has been in jail since the day of Noah’s death when, during a nine-hour interrogation by officers and detectives, she described how she killed each of the boys with their own blankets.
Her husband, Joe Pilkington, had been at work and came home on all three occasions to find one of his sons dead. Investigators initially chalked the first death up as unexplained, maybe Sudden Infant Death Syndrome.
Gavin’s death, then, sparked both a criminal and a Children Services investigation that was still underway when Noah was born. Noah and the couple’s daughter were removed from the home, but a week before Brittany Pilkington killed her third son, Logan County Family Court Judge Dan Bratka had ordered the two children back into the Pilkingtons’ home.
It has been a case that courtroom observers and attorneys on both sides have said highlighted the failures of several systems.
Joe Pilkington — the two are now divorced — was her mother’s longtime live-in boyfriend and raised Brittany. She was a teenager when he got her pregnant, and they eventually married. Yet she was never removed from the home and no charges were ever brought against him.
After their sons died and Brittany Pilkington was charged, prosecutors then charged Joe Pilkington with felony sexual battery for having sex with her when she was underage. He eventually took his own plea deal in 2016, and pleaded guilty to sexual imposition, a third-degree misdemeanor. He received no jail time, but has to register as a sex offender for 15 years.