July 12, 2016
A Vestal woman who admitted illegally keeping two teenage sisters at her home for 11 months was sentenced Monday to 10 years in state prison for kidnapping.
Amanda Hellmann, 29, had been arrested in the April 27, 2015, abduction of then-13-year-old Shaeleen Fortner and her sister, Kylea Fortner, then 15, who were in the custody of child protective services at the time. The girls’ mother, Cindy L. Fortner, who was in a relationship with Hellmann, had arranged the kidnapping and acted as an accomplice, Broome County District Attorney Steve Cornwell said.
Delivering an emotionally wrought statement at sentencing in Broome County Court, Hellmann apologized to her family members, several of whom were seated in the courtroom gallery behind her,
“It was never my intention to hurt anybody,” she sobbed. “I made stupid mistakes.”
Fortner and Hellmann picked the girls up in a car around 2:20 p.m. on April 27, 2015, before they could get on a Susquehanna Valley school bus to return to their foster home, according to prosecutors.
Cornwell said Hellmann and Fortner were acting in defiance of a Family Court order that had placed the girls in foster care, and committed a number of acts to prevent the girls’ discovery by law enforcement.
State police spent 11 months looking for the girls. They were found March 9, staying at Hellmann’s residence in Vestal after law enforcement investigated a lead spurred by a phone tip. The girls had been listed by police as teenage runaways from their Town of Binghamton foster home.
Judge Kevin Dooley, before handing down the prearranged 10-year sentence for Hellmann’s guilty plea to a felony count of second-degree kidnapping, said Monday it seemed clear that Hellmann’s drug addiction factored into her poor decision-making.
“I’m sure in your mind, you were trying to do the right thing,” Dooley said of Hellmann’s motive to commit kidnapping. “I’m sure you can appreciate … looking back, that perhaps it wasn’t the right thing.”
Outside the courthouse Monday, Cornwell said this case is an example of how drug addiction can play a role in all aspects of the criminal justice system — even a kidnapping case. According to police records, Hellmann overdosed on heroin twice last year and both incidents summoned emergency responders to her home.
“There’s never a happy ending,” Cornwell said. “The defendant admitted her guilt, she admitted in court what she did was wrong.”
As Cornwell spoke to news media, several of Hellmann’s family members walked out of the courthouse and one woman shouted, “He’s a liar,” in reference to the district attorney. They declined to comment to reporters, as did Hellmann’s defense attorney Ron Benjamin, after the sentencing.
The 10 years Hellmann spends behind bars will be followed by five years of post-release supervision, which is similar to parole, according to terms of her plea agreement with the district attorney’s office.
On July 1, Fortner pleaded guilty to a felony count of conspiracy, and is awaiting a sentence of up to eight years in prison.
The two girls remain in the custody of social services.
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