German Woman Sentenced to 15 Years in Prison for Killing 8 of her Babies

A woman was convicted of manslaughter and sentenced Thursday to 15 years in prison for killing eight of her newborn babies in the 1990s and burying their bodies around her parents' home in a case that shocked Germany.

Sabine Hilschenz, 40, was given the maximum sentence after the court found her guilty of eight counts of manslaughter. She also was suspected in the death of a ninth child in 1988, but the statute of limitations does not allow for that case to be tried.

Hilschenz was arrested after the remains of the infants were found in July, buried in flower pots and a fish tank in the garden of her parents' home near the German-Polish border.

The macabre discovery and a string of serious child abuse cases caused a media storm in Germany and helped prompt a government drive to improve protection for minors.

Hilschenz declined to testify at her trial, which opened in April, but previously told investigators that she was drunk when she went into labor and could not remember the births.

"We are convinced that the defendant committed manslaughter by neglect in eight cases," presiding Judge Matthias Fuchs told the state court in Frankfurt an der Oder.

Hilschenz has said that she and her then-husband already had three children, and he did not want more.

"She feared that her husband would leave her and take the children with him," Fuchs said.

He said the 1988 death of the first child "formed the basis for what happened later," and that her inhibitions shrank with the death of each of the other eight babies, which were born between 1992 and 1998.

Defense lawyer Matthias Schoeneburg said Hilschenz took the verdict calmly.

"She knew she also had to reckon with a decision like this," he said.

Before the trial began, the court reduced the charges from murder on the grounds that there was insufficient evidence she intended to hide her alleged crimes.

Prosecutors had argued the evidence heard at the trial contradicted that. They called for her to be convicted of murder and sentenced to life in prison.

Her defense team argued she should be convicted of only one count of manslaughter and sentenced to 3 1/2 years, maintaining it could not be established conclusively that seven of the babies were born alive.

Schoeneburg said he would appeal the verdict on that basis.

Fuchs, however, said "there are plenty of indications that all the children were alive."

Prosecutor Anette Bargenda indicated she was satisfied with the verdict, but said she would examine the ruling to determine why the court decided against a murder conviction.