by: Kerry Kavanaugh Updated:
GWINNETT COUNTY, Ga. - A mother and the man prosecutors say are responsible for a deadly meth lab explosion in Gwinnett County that killed her three children accepted plea deals in court.
Their guilty pleas come just days before their murder trial was set to begin.
Channel 2's Kerry Kavanaugh was the only television reporter in the Gwinnett County courtroom Tuesday afternoon, when the defendants broke down into tears.
Prosecutors said police and fire investigators found evidence supporting a large meth operation at a Lilburn home on Spring Hill Road in Feb. 2011. They also found a lot of cash.
"There was some $192,000 found hidden in the dining room walls of that residence as well as several thousand dollars. There was $8,000 located in a cellphone box in the master bedroom and an additional $623 in the master bedroom closet, as well as $2,687 in a master bedroom drawer," Gwinnett County Assistant District Attorney Lisa Jones said.
The victims, 21-month-old Stacy Brito, 3-year-old Jose Ivan Guevara and 4-year-old Isaac Guevara died, after a meth lab caught fire in their Lilburn home.
"Stacy Brito was burned on over 75 percent of her body. Jose was burned on over 60 percent of her body and Isaac somewhere between 60 to 70 percent of his body,” said Jones. “They died of smoke inhalation and burns to body.”
Their mother, 24-year-old Neibi Brito, broke down in tears when she apologized to the court.
"I am sorry and I do understand that we all made mistakes. I was 22 at that time and I was naive, but now I know better. And I think that I want look forward and be a good mother to my daughter,” she sobbed.
She was pregnant at the time of the explosion. She gave birth to her fourth child, a girl, while behind bars. That child lives with her grandmother.
Joseph Perez offered very little to the court. He whispered as he said "I’m just sorry."
Both pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter and drug trafficking. They also agreed to testify against Ivan Gonzales, who police believe was head of the meth operation. Police are still trying to find Gonzales.
They were sentenced to 50 years, 30 to be spent behind bars.
"There's just nothing good to say about this case (because) those three little babies just didn't deserve that,” said Judge Melodie Snell Connor. "And anybody that thinks drugs don't kill just needs to take a brief look at this."
"I don't think there's anything the law can do to you that would be any worse that than the pain as a mother you're probably suffering from the loss of your children."
"To have three babies die, one thing and to have them burned, the worst possible death anybody could suffer,” added the judge.
"Nothing can bring them back. I only hope that other people can learn from this," she said. "This is what happens when people try to make meth."