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Girl Sentenced in Sibling Death

January 31, 1998

PEORIA, Ill. (AP) _ Freed from her shackles by a guard, a 12-year-old girl left a courtroom to serve seven years of probation for killing her infant brother in his crib.

Laura Billen was just 11 when she killed 2-month-old Jessie Duffy last July. She twisted his neck until a bruised spinal cord shut down his heart and lungs. Then she wrapped the cord of a laundry bag around his neck to make it seem he had choked accidentally.

She has been in jail ever since, a ward of the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services. Her mother lost custody because of abuse and neglect.

State law does not allow prison time for offenders under age 13 so long as another appropriate facility accepts them, the judge said. In this case, Laura will go to a Peoria home for troubled children where she will be monitored _ but not held under lock and key.

``I don’t know how you explain to ... any mother or father of a victim that the killer is getting probation,″ said assistant state’s attorney Michael Spokely, who said the law should be changed.

Laura was given a chance to make a statement before Juvenile Court Judge Michael Brandt imposed the sentence Friday. She simply shook her head no.

Afterward, she hugged her grandmother and talked quietly with her mother for a moment, tears welling in her eyes. Then she was escorted out of the courtroom, ready to go to the home where she can attend school and get psychiatric help.

Authorities say Laura’s mother, Christine Decker, often left her daughter and four sons to fend for themselves. As the oldest, Laura had the responsibility of trying to feed and clothe the rest, including a crying infant.

``That was a lot of responsibility placed on an 11-year-old,″ said Collette Bailey, Laura’s attorney.

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