A Fresno mother who left her three young children in an apartment that later caught fire was sentenced Monday in Fresno County Superior Court to four years of probation, 70 days in jail and a yearlong child abuse treatment program.
Judge Timothy Kams could have sentenced Jamela Vanessa Brown, 20, to the two years in prison that prosecutor Nicole Galstan requested. If Brown had gone to prison, she would have had fewer than 110 days left in her sentence because of time served in the Fresno County Jail.
But Kams said he believed Brown would benefit from the services and supervision provided by probation. In addition to the child abuse treatment program, Brown will have to enroll in mental health counseling and a substance abuse program if directed by her probation officer.
If Brown violates any condition of probation, she faces up to four years in prison, the judge said.
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Police said Brown left her children, ages 1, 3 and 4, alone for at least 30 minutes on Jan. 25, 2015, while she walked to a store more than half a mile away. While she was gone, a fire broke out, filling the apartment with toxic black smoke. Firefighters responding to the apartment at 851 E. Church Ave. found the three children unconscious and the television on fire.
Fresno police Chief Jerry Dyer said the children were rushed to Valley Children’s Hospital in critical condition to be treated for severe smoke inhalation. One child, the 3-year-old girl, also had a minor burn on her left palm. Dyer said all three children needed ventilators to help them breathe.
In scolding Brown, Dyer said the children likely would have died had firefighters arrived three to five minutes later.
According to Dyer, Brown returned from the store once she saw her apartment was on fire. She notified firefighters that her three children were inside and unlocked the security door so they could complete the rescue. Dyer said she had the only key available to the security door.
But Brown then lied to investigators, saying she had left her children with a man while she went to the store, Dyer said.
In June last year, Brown pleaded no contest to three counts of child abuse and child endangerment. She is now scheduled to be released from jail in mid-February. Her three children are in the custody of county Child Protective Services.