Stacey Mendieta openly wept when a Douglas County Judge read aloud the names of her two dead children in court on Thursday.
"My babies were my life," the 28-year-old told the judge shortly before the judge sentenced her to 300 hours of community service. "I would give anything to change what happened," she says.
On Aug. 20, 2008, her two children, one five and the other two, opened a door to her car and crawled in while she was sleeping outside their grandparents' home in Castle Pines North. For some reason, investigators believe the two fell asleep inside the car and ultimately died from the extreme heat.
"I loved Jasmine and Nathan more than anything else in this world," Mendieta told the judge.
Last year, Douglas County prosecutors decided to charge the mother with two counts of child abuse resulting in death. Had a jury found her guilty of the charges, a judge could have sentenced her to up to 96 years in prison.
Thursday, Mendieta agreed to plead no contest to a lesser child abuse charge. In exchange, prosecutors agreed not to seek prison time.
"We charged this case based upon the facts as we knew them and resolved the case based upon the information we were ultimately given," prosecutor Brian Sugioka says.
Mendieta's family still believes prosecutors were simply too aggressive with the original charges.
"[This could have] happened to anybody, whether they know it or not," Mendieta's father Ken VanHerpen says.
Mendieta's family says after working a night shift Mendieta was asleep when her children climbed into her car.
"I don't think there is a parent in the whole world who hasn't slept and napped while their children are unsupervised in the house," Mendieta's defense attorney Mike Pellow says.