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Tanicia Goodwin, 27, pleaded guilty to an attack on her children at their home in Salem. After the attack, she doused them with lighter fluid and set their apartment on fire.
Tanicia Goodwin, 27, pleaded guilty to an attack on her children at their home in Salem. After the attack, she doused them with lighter fluid and set their apartment on fire.Joanne Rathe/Globe staff

SALEM — A Salem mother admitted Friday to slashing the throats of her two children, dousing them in lighter fluid, and then setting fire to her apartment, during a court hearing in which a prosecutor described how the woman told her son he had “lived too long” before slashing him.

Tanicia Goodwin, 27, was sentenced by Essex Superior Court Judge James F. Lang to 20 to 25 years in state prison after pleading guilty to seven charges tied to the attack on March 18, 2012.

Melissa A. Woodard, an assistant district attorney, told the court that Goodwin’s 8-year-old son, Jamaal, was sitting on his bedroom floor eating Cinnamon Toast Crunch cereal and watching a movie the boy called “Men from Mars” when his mother set upon him with a knife.

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“She said to him, ‘I’m sorry Jamaal, but you’ve lived too long,’ ” Woodard said. “She then proceeded to come behind him, hold him by the stomach with one arm, and then use the other to slit his throat.”

Woodard said there is “no amount of prison time sufficient” to punish Goodwin.

“The greatest tragedy and ultimate betrayal in this case is that the evil came at the hands of their own mother,” she said.

During the hearing, Goodwin hung her head low as she answered questions posed by the judge. She told him she is bipolar and takes medication that makes her thoughts “more clear.”

She sat quietly as Woodard recounted what happened after Jamaal’s throat was slit.

Goodwin told the boy he could give his 3-year-old sister, Erica, a goodbye hug, the prosecutor said. The boy found the girl with a bloodied neck, lying on top of a pile of objects Goodwin had placed in the middle of the living room, which was on fire, she said.

Goodwin then “superficially cut herself,” doused her children and parts of the apartment with lighter fluid, and set four separate fires, Woodard said. Jamaal attempted to put out the flames using a water bowl Goodwin used to wash floors because “he didn’t want to die,” Woodard said.

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Goodwin then left the apartment with Erica, removing the indoor doorknob so Jamaal could not escape, Woodard said. The girl was left on a couch at a neighbor’s apartment, she said.

When Salem fire Lieutenant Richard Arno got to the apartment, he found a fire in the middle of the living room, noted that sprinklers were not going off, and went outside to retrieve a fire extinguisher, Woodard said.

After exhausting one extinguisher, Arno tried to leave the apartment, but could not exit because the inside doorknob had been removed, Woodard said. He started pounding on the door to alert fellow firefighters and escaped when the door popped open, she said.

Arno went back into the apartment, found Jamaal, and carried him to safety, Woodard said.

Investigators later found Goodwin had covered sprinkler heads, vents, and smoke detectors in every room except Jamaal’s bedroom with rags and duct tape, she said.

The laceration to Jamaal’s neck left his trachea almost completely severed, Woodard said. A large neck muscle over the carotid artery had also been cut and the sheath covering the carotid artery was nicked, she said.

The attack on Erica completely severed two major muscles on the left side of her neck and her jugular veins, Woodard said. Two major muscles on the right side of her neck were almost completely severed, she said.

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While firefighters were at the apartment, Goodwin went to Salem police headquarters, where she smashed a glass case displaying police patches and collapsed in the lobby, Woodard said.

There, she repeatedly said, “I’m sorry babies. I’m sorry babies. I did what I had to do to protect my children,” according to Woodard. She later nodded affirmatively when asked by an officer if she had hurt her children, the prosecutor said.

Defense attorney Denise Regan told the judge Goodwin has been treated for mental illness since she was 8 or 9 years old and suffers from schizoaffective disorder. She said as a girl Goodwin lived in squalid conditions in an abusive and neglectful home.

Since being arrested, Goodwin has been hospitalized nine times for mental health issues, Regan said.

“She loves her children very much and wishes them the best,” Regan said.

Both children have recovered from their physical wounds, but continue to suffer emotional trauma, said Kim M. Faitella, an Essex assistant district attorney.

Jamaal Goodwin was adopted by his mother’s cousin, Wayne Cox, said Faitella. Erica lives with her biological father, she said. The children and their fathers did not attend the hearing.

Lang called the crimes horrifying.

“I’m frankly at a loss for words to try to articulate the heinous nature of what occurred here,” he said.

Related:

Salem mother accused of brutal attack is hospitalized for evaluation

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Doctors optimistic about recovery of Salem children

Salem mother said she sought to ‘protect’ children

Mother pleads not guilty in attack on children


Laura Crimaldi can be reached at laura.crimaldi@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @lauracrimaldi.

Correction: An earlier version of this story misspelled the name of Essex Assistant District Attorney Melissa A. Woodard.