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Montana judge rejects plea deal, gives stepmom 4 years after children taken to Bahamas
BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) A Montana judge rejected a plea deal and instead handed down a stiff, four-year prison sentence to the stepmother of three children who were taken to the Bahamas on a sailboat against custody orders.
Angela Bryant, 45, pleaded guilty in May under a deal with prosecutors that called for her to get only six months in prison on a single count of parenting interference by accountability.
Prosecutors said she helped take the children on the boat to the Bahamas and was later arrested in Hawaii.
Judge Michael Salvagni imposed the four-year term to be served in the Montana Women's Prison, according to the Gallatin County Clerk of District Court. That matches the sentence given to the children's father, James Bryant, in July.
The children were supposed to be returned to their mother in Montana last September under a court-ordered custody plan. They had been missing for more than seven months when authorities found them with their father on a sailboat off the Florida coast.
Authorities said the children a 15-year-old girl and two boys, 12 and 13 previously had been in the Bahamas and were found while attempting to return to island waters. Also on board the sailboat were a dog, cat, lizard and snake.
Prosecutor Todd Whipple said Angela Bryant had been offered a more lenient sentence because James Bryant was the one responsible for returning the children under the custody plan.
Salvagni was not bound to honor the plea agreement under which Angela Bryant waived her right to an appeal.
"It would be safe to say, he held she was equally responsible," Whipple said of the sentence. "The judge has the discretion and he used it."
Authorities said there was no reason to believe the children were in any immediate danger when they were found. They were reunited with their mother and legal guardian, Kelly Bryant, in Belgrade, Mont.
Angela Bryant was arrested in Hawaii in March after authorities received an anonymous tip on her whereabouts.
After her arrest, Angela Bryant declined to waive her right to an extradition hearing. Weeks of delayed proceedings followed until Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer requested her return to the state to face charges.
Angela Bryant's attorney, Gary Balaz, said he would not be commenting on the case. Whipple said Bryant has the right to request a review of her sentence by the Montana Supreme Court's sentence review division.