A 25-year-old mother in Milwaukee was sentenced to 18 years in prison and 18 years of extended supervision after her three children died in a fire while unattended and locked in a bedroom.
Last spring, Angelica Belen was starting a new job and her babysitter fell through. She left her three children, 5-year-old Nayeli Colon and 4-year-old twins Adrian and Alexis Colon, locked in a bedroom of their West Allis home. A spark from faulty wiring started a fire. The bodies of the three children were found huddled under a dresser.
Belen pleaded guilty to three counts of felony child neglect in July.
She apologized to the deceased kids in court: "I'm sorry that you'll never grow up. I am sorry that I will never see you grow up, graduate high school and have children of your own.”
Having grown up in an abusive family and struggling to raise three special needs children, Judge Jeffery Wagner said he sympathized with Belen.
Belen has a fourth child, who was visiting his father at the time of the fire.
"I understand your terrible, terrible upbringing," Wagner said. "I know you were victimized yourself growing up, and I understand that and I take that into consideration. But there shouldn't be this cycle."
When Belen was three, in 1992, the body of her 17-month-old sister was found beaten and starved in her crib. The surviving children were placed in foster homes when he mother went to jail, where Belen was abused.
Her aunt Sharon Fredericks spoke on her behalf in court. "Her intention was to protect the children, your honor, it wasn't to hurt them," Fredericks said. "She would never hurt them."
The prosecution didn’t believe upbringing was an excuse.
"She certainly started out behind the eight ball in life, but her sisters did well and this defendant had the chance to do well," said prosecutor Mark Williams.
Williams said welfare reports showed the kids lived in filthy conditions, where garbage, feces and dirty diapers were found throughout their home. One report mentioned exposed wiring. Another said a child was eating out of a garbage can.
Williams said the Bureau of Milwaukee Child Welfare was a party to the child’s death. Belen was warned on several occasions by child welfare because she would leave her children home alone and was eventually charge with neglect.
The Wisconsin Department of Children and Families launched an investigation into the case and found that the Bureau of Milwaukee Child Welfare did not handle it properly. The bureau’s program is now ungergoing a massive overhaul.