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Mother gets 25 years for fire that killed two of her children

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — A sobbing mother was sentenced Thursday to 25 years in prison for setting fire to her home and killing two of her children at Fort Campbell, in what prosecutors described as a scheme to escape a rocky marriage and collect on her soldier husband’s life insurance policy.

In a tearful plea for leniency, 39-year-old Billi Jo Smallwood showed photo albums and her son’s toy chest while professing her innocence to a crime that could have put her in prison for the rest of her life.

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‘‘Those are my children, my babies that grew inside of me,’’ she told US District Judge Thomas B. Russell. ‘‘I love them so much.’’

Assistant US Attorney James R. Lesousky Jr. described Smallwood’s actions as ‘‘premeditated and devious’’ that justified a life sentence.

Prosecutors argued her intent was to kill her husband and cash in his $400,000 insurance policy.

She was convicted of one count of malicious damage and destruction by fire to property owned by the United States.

The May 2007 fire at the base killed 9-year-old Sam Fagan, and 2-year-old Rebekah Smallwood. Smallwood’s husband, Army Specialist Wayne Smallwood, crawled out of a second level window and suffered a leg injury when he jumped.

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