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Jun 17, 2023

A Kansas City area mother whose toddler and infant daughters died on Fourth of July five years ago in a hot SUV in rural Clay County was sentenced Thursday to 58 years in prison.

Jenna Boedecker, 34, appeared in Clay County Circuit Court at her sentencing hearing two months after being found guilty at trial on two counts of second-degree felony murder and two counts of felony child endangerment.

Saying his decision was not taken lightly, Judge Shane T. Alexander ordered Boedecker to serve back-to-back sentences on the murder and child endangerment convictions. He called the deaths of 7-week-old Goodknight Ribando and 2-year-old Ireland Ribando a “horrendous” event that was “entirely preventable.”

“That makes it even more horrendous,” Alexander said.

The judge’s decision closely aligned with the recommendations handed down by the Clay County jury that was charged with deciding Boedecker’s fate in May.

Clay County deputies were called to investigate the deaths of the Ribando girls shortly after noon on July 4, 2018. A neighbor called 911 while trying to help Boedecker, who’d shown up at the door carrying their lifeless bodies, cool the children with water, wet rags and fans.

Three hours before, a social worker with the Missouri Children’s Division in Clay County knocked on Boedecker’s door in response to a hotline call that was made the previous night. The social worker told police there was an SUV parked in the driveway at the time but he had not noticed anyone inside.

Authorities learned of a dispute the night before the children died between Boedecker and her husband in which she accused him of infidelity.

She later told police she and the children were locked out of the house after the fight and they slept in her Jeep Patriot. The next morning she awoke to find them not breathing.

Months went by before Boedecker was charged in connection with the deaths as the sheriff’s department did not initially suspect foul play. Experienced criminal investigators were later called to work the case.

Over a five-day trial, prosecutors called testimony from witnesses, including neighbors, as they portrayed Boedecker as a criminally negligent mother with a history of drug abuse. Her defense attorney countered that Boedecker had made tragic mistakes that she ultimately paid for by seeing her daughters die.

During the hearing Thursday, prosecutors called members of the Ribando family to the stand to outline the sentence they believed Boedecker deserved.

Among those addressing the court were the paternal aunts, uncle and grandmother of the two girls. They said the deaths tore the family apart and weighed especially hard on the father, Joe Ribando.

They said no amount of prison time could replace the loss they felt, and one suggested a just sentence would be forcing Boedecker to be put in a hot car.

“But I understand that’s not how the criminal justice system works,” the aunt said.

Teresa Bailey, the grandmother, described frequent visits to their gravesite where she places thematic decorations of prom, weddings and daddy daughter dances — all things the girls never had the chance to experience. The gravesite is within hearing distance of a schoolyard, she said, making some of those trips all the more “devastating.”

“My son will never be the same. My family will not be the same. We will always miss them,” Bailey said.

In asking the judge to have the sentences run consecutively, Robert Sanders, chief deputy prosecutor, said Boedecker is “self-absorbed” and a “narcissist” who “utterly failed in her obligations as a mother.”

“This wasn’t a loss of children. This was a throwing away of children,” Sanders said.

Michael Shipley, Boedecker’s defense attorney, sought leniency from the judge Thursday in the form of serving out her sentences at the same time, which could have allowed Boedecker to walk free in about 18 years as “best case scenario.”

Shipley described the proposed 58-year sentence as harsh, saying she already “has been punished every day” since her daughters died.

“People don’t do that type of time for first-degree murder,” Shipley said, adding: “You want to say she’s a bad mom and you want to call names? Fine. But nobody’s ever said that she intentionally hurt her children.”

Shipley declined to comment after the hearing.

Outside the courthouse Thursday, Clay County Prosecuting Attorney Zachary Thompson noted the jury had heard all the evidence from both sides and come back with the decades-long sentence. He and those in his office respect that decision and believe it is appropriate.

“The truth is there’s two dead children and nothing we do in the Clay County Courthouse is gonna bring them back,” Thompson said. “But we hope that the decision of the judge and the jury will deliver a sense of justice to those children’s family and everyone who loved them.”