SANTA ANA — A young mother was sentenced today to four years in prison for leaving her 3-month-old twin babies unattended in a car with its windows rolled up, where they died of heatstroke on a hot summer day in 1986.
"It's not fair," Beverly Jean Ernst moaned as Orange County Superior Court Judge Jean H. Rheinheimer imposed the sentence.
Rheinheimer told Ernst, 26, that she decided on a stiff sentence because of the seriousness of the crime and the vulnerability of the victims--Adam and Ashley Ernst.
According to testimony, Ernst left the twins in her car about 7 a.m. July 20, 1986, when she went into a Garden Grove shop where her boyfriend lived and fell asleep with him. According to autopsy reports, the twins died no later than 10:30 a.m., nearly two hours before they were discovered.
Authorities estimated that the temperature in the car reached 130 degrees.
Ernst had faced a maximum of seven years in state prison.
Deputy Public Defender Dennis P. O'Connell argued that the prison sentence was too harsh for Ernst, who he said blames herself for the deaths of her children. "There isn't one second of any day that she doesn't wish she could turn back the clock to July 20," he said.