A 20-year-old woman who left her toddlers in an overheated car while she partied with four men at a motel was acquitted of murder Tuesday but found guilty of lesser charges.
Jennie Bain Ducker, a manic depressive with a history of alcoholism, was convicted of two counts of aggravated child abuse in the deaths of Devin, 2, and Dustin, 1.
Ducker claimed the boys’ June 6 deaths were an accident. The children died of hyperthermia when Ducker left them strapped in their car seats for at least eight hours as the temperature inside soared to an estimated 120 degrees.
Ducker, who had been free on bail, was taken into custody immediately after the verdict. Each abuse count carries a prison term of 15 to 25 years. Sentencing was set for Nov. 9.
Defense lawyer Mike Galligan said he would appeal, but that Ducker was prepared to go to jail. “I actually think she wants punishment. She feels very guilty,” he said.
Prosecutor Bill Locke said he felt jurors reached a good decision.
“It’s a felony, so she’s not getting away without serving any time,” Locke said.
Her estranged husband, James Ducker of Marshall, N.C., had filed for divorce and was seeking custody shortly before the boys’ deaths. “For as long as she lives, she should be in jail,” he said.
Ducker’s parents were hoping for an acquittal. Her father, Dewey Eddie Bain, yelled to jurors, “I hope y’all are satisfied.” He and his wife, Janie, then collapsed in each other’s arms, sobbing.
Ducker was charged under Tennessee’s new child abuse law, which states that a killing need not be premeditated to qualify as first-degree murder if a child dies as the result of aggravated abuse. Jurors opted instead for the lesser charges.
“It was a very difficult decision for us to reach,” said jury foreman Mark Karki, a Baptist minister. “It was very emotional.”
Prosecutors had sought to discredit Ducker’s defense, noting that she had checked on the boys from the motel room balcony before falling asleep.
Ducker claimed she left one boyfriend’s home with the children about 10:30 p.m., and arrived at the motel, where another boyfriend lived, at about 4 a.m. She couldn’t explain where she was for most of those hours.