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Provo • For 18 years, Megan Huntsman held a deadly secret that she never told a soul.
It's a secret she thinks about and lives with every day, she said in a statement to a Provo judge Monday.
Six times over 10 years, Huntsman gave birth to a child in her Pleasant Grove home, then immediately pressed her thumbs against the baby's tiny neck and squeezed the life from the child.
"In some small way, I wanted to help them avoid the terrible life I would have given them," Huntsman said in her statement, which was read aloud in 4th District Court by her defense attorney. "I deprived my little babies of the opportunity of life. … Those babies aren't coming back, and they never will because of my actions."
Huntsman, 40, pleaded guilty as charged in February to six counts of first-degree felony murder in her children's deaths. As part of a plea deal, prosecutors had agreed to recommend that the five-years-to-life prison sentences run concurrent to one another.
But at Monday's sentencing hearing, 4th District Judge Darold McDade said concurrent sentencing was "not appropriate" for the crimes. He instead ordered her to serve three of the counts consecutively, while the rest will run concurrently.
"I really thought I'd seen it all until this case came along," the judge told Huntsman before sentencing. "I hoped I would not get the case. What a tragedy."
Utah County Attorney Jeff Buhman said it is unlikely Huntsman will receive an initial hearing in front of the parole board until she has served at least 30 years behind bars. But he believes the woman will spend the rest of her life in prison.
"These were very cold and calculated killings," Buhman said in court. "She was a woman who was remarkably unbelievable and incredibly indifferent. She smothered or strangled six of her own flesh and blood."
In her statement, Huntsman said it was combination of her addiction to methamphetamine and alcohol, an abusive marriage and her own depression that played a part in the killings, which occurred from Jan. 1, 1996, to Dec. 31, 2006.
"Megan is not a monster," sister Jamie Huntsman told the judge Monday. "She's not evil. From what I understand, she was scared."
Letters from two of Megan Huntsman's three daughters were also read aloud in court by her sister.
"No matter what anyone thinks you are, you are a good person," the letter from one daughter reads.
Her youngest daughter wrote that she was "shocked and heartbroken" by her mother's crimes.
"This is not the Mom I know," the letter reads. "The Mom I know was the one who had dinner for us every night, a clean house and was a loving mother. Nobody could guess my mom would do anything like this."
While Megan Huntsman's sister, mother and children made statements in support of the defendant, no one was called by prosecutors to give a statement on behalf of the infants. The woman's estranged husband, Darren West who fathered the dead infants was in court during the sentencing hearing, but did not speak to the judge.
In an unusual move, prosecutors called a Pleasant Grove police detective to the stand Monday to detail the case.
Detective Dan Beckstrom said police went to Huntsman's home April 12, 2014. West had called 911 after he found "what he believed was a dead baby in a bag in his garage."
Eventually, police would find seven tiny corpses wrapped in bags, covered in electric tape and stuffed in boxes with clothing and towels. At least one of the babies had a black elastic hair tie around the neck, according to Beckstrom, which Huntsman admitted she had used to ensure the child was dead.
Beckstrom said when he initially interviewed Huntsman, only one baby had been found, and she claimed it was stillborn. But about an hour into the interview, the detective got word that there were more babies inside the Pleasant Grove garage.
Huntsman eventually admitted that she choked or smothered six of the children, while claiming that a seventh child found in the garage was stillborn.
The detective said he asked Huntsman why three of her daughters lived, and she told him that the two oldest daughters were born before she acquired a drug problem. When she was pregnant with her youngest living child, she had two family members who were also pregnant and she told them she was expecting, as well, Beckstrom said.
"[The child] was not murdered," Beckstrom said, "because the pregnancy was known."
Beckstrom said Huntsman told him that after secretly giving birth to the five girls and two boys in her bathroom or bedroom, she quickly killed each child. She would then hold the infant for a few minutes to ensure it did not have a heartbeat, he testified.
"She says she kept them in the garage," Beckstrom said, "[because] she was afraid if she got rid of them or moved them, she would get caught."
Defense attorney Anthony Howell told the judge that Huntsman became pregnant as a teen and had two children, and soon after became addicted to drugs.
"It's safe to say she had a rough go at adult life," Howell said. "She's shy and was afraid to reach out for help."
Howell also pointed out that the state would not have had a case if Huntsman hadn't confessed and told them what happened.
Buhman has agreed that prosecutors will write a letter to the Utah Board of Pardons and Parole about Huntsman's cooperation in the investigation.