Editor's note: Portions of this story include graphic testimony about abuse that may not be suitable for some readers.
Amanda Reyer, the Limestone County mom convicted of scalding two of her children in a bathtub in 2015, told a judge during her sentencing hearing Tuesday she would put herself in the water if she could do it over again and that her kids had every reason to hate her for what she did.
She cried as she described the abuse she suffered at the hands of her boyfriend, Derrick Defoe, who she said helped her drop her two children into water so hot it caused her daughter's skin to fall off into the tub.
She said she was "trying to appease" Defoe by using an alternate punishment after her children were caught messing up a bed. She said she feared whatever punishment he would come up with, so she tried to recreate something she'd seen on television but meant to only turn the children's skin pink.
"It just went wrong," Reyer said. "It went absolutely wrong."
Defense witnesses testified Tuesday that Reyer was a good and loving mom who didn't have the education or mental capacity necessary to parent children, leaving her unable to comprehend that sticking children in hot water could cause serious burns.
Reyer testified she had taken baths in the same tub in the months before, turning on only hot water and suffering no burns. Investigators found the water heater was set at 150 degrees on the night of the incident, hot enough to cause severe burns on both of the children.
The landlord of the mobile home community where the incident occurred testified water heaters in the mobile homes were usually set at 125 degrees. The landlord said she had no idea why the water heater would be set so high and denied suggestions by Defense Attorney Patrick Hill that the temperature was changed by maintenance workers who were cleaning carpet in the home.
Reyer's adoptive sister testified Reyer wouldn't have the knowledge required to describe a water heater, much less adjust the temperature of one. When asked why she didn't check the water, Reyer said she didn't know.
When asked why she used hot water instead of cold, like the person she said she saw on television, she said she didn't know.
"I wasn't thinking," Reyer testified.
Reyer told the court she didn't realize the water was hot when her 5-year-old son was dropped in by Defoe and immediately jumped out and ran to hide, crying. She said she didn't realize when her 2-year-old screamed and cried, scrambling to get out and falling back in.
Instead, she said, it wasn't until the toddler's skin began to come off in the tub that she realized there was a problem. She said she tried to cool off the girl with a cold shower and even covered the girl in Vaseline to try and soothe her burns, but when it only seemed to make things worse, she drove her daughter to Huntsville Hospital.
She told the court she didn't think her 5-year-old son's burns were bad enough to warrant treatment. Officials at Huntsville Hospital told Limestone County sheriff's investigators of the 2-year-old's burns and investigators then alerted Limestone County Department of Human Resources. The investigators did not know the 5-year-old was burned until they went to the home to investigate the toddler's scalding. They called Limestone County Emergency Medical Services to help the 5-year-old.
Reyer's son was taken to Children's of Alabama for treatment and is now in the custody of a therapeutic foster parent, who testified the child suffered from anxiety, nightmares, depression and anger issues connected to the incident.
The 2-year-old girl was taken to Children's before being taken to Shriners Hospital in Cincinnati, a burn specialist. She had burns on 70-80 percent of her body. Due to intensive scarring, she will have to undergo regular surgery until she is an adult to loosen skin and accommodate her growth.
The child is now in the custody of her paternal grandmother. The grandmother testified Tuesday she had to take time off work to travel to Shriners and take classes on how to care for her granddaughter. She said the toddler came home and had to be carried until a specially made wheelchair could be built for her, but after more surgery and treatment, the girl is now able to walk and attend school.
Limestone County District Attorney Brian Jones said it was "the kind of case that haunts people at night."
"We're looking forward to trying (Defoe), we believe, in February," Jones said after Reyer's hearing. "... We've actually been able to fill in some of the gaps when she took the stand today and testified as to what happened."
Defoe is awaiting trial on the six counts he faces in connection with the scaldings, including two counts of aggravated child abuse, which are Class B felonies; two counts of first-degree domestic violence, which are Class A felonies; and two counts of attempted murder, which are Class A felonies.
Reyer was facing the same six counts until a plea agreement in July in which she was allowed to plead guilty to the two Class B felonies. Because of "Winston's Law," passed in 2016 in Alabama, aggravated child abuse is a Class A felony when committed against a child under age 6. The crime is punishable by up to life in prison and a $60,000 fine. However, the Reyer case occurred in 2015 — before the law was passed — so the aggravated child abuse charge remains a Class B felony and carries a maximum penalty of up to 20 years in prison.
Jones asked Limestone County Circuit Judge Robert Baker to give Reyer the maximum sentence per count on Tuesday. Hill asked for a split or suspended sentence.
In her testimony, Reyer asked Baker for probation and "a chance to really show who I am." She said she takes full responsibility for what happened but wants the court to know her actions were not done with malicious intent.
Baker said he intended to make an example of Reyer, delivering the sentence through his own tears.
"I'm a hard fellow to shock, but you did it," he said.
Baker sentenced Reyer to the maximum-possible punishment for the charge to which she was allowed to plead guilty — 20 years per count of aggravated child abuse causing serious injury, to be served consecutively, for a total of 40 years in state prison. She will receive credit for time already served in county jail.