Mom was under IDHW scrutiny before fire

BOISE -- In the months and years before she set fire to her home and rigged it to explode while her daughters slept in the bedroom, Jodi Bassett was the subject of more than 30 referrals by the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare.

Sustained findings included three cases of physical abuse, drug use in the home, filthy conditions and the children missing school. She was sentenced to five days in jail for hitting one of the girls, and her daughters were so often sick, prosecutors say IDHW investigators raised concerns that Bassett may have Munchhausen's by proxy.

All the while, she was entrenched in a series of bitter custody battles with the girls' fathers, and a custody hearing with one of the fathers was looming.

But on the night of Dec. 19, 2012, all three girls remained in her custody.

In court Wednesday, Bassett cried as Prosecutor John Dinger described how she set fires all over the Boise home, adding accelerant to spread the flames and positioning oxygen tanks around the home to create an explosion.

She blocked the doors before setting fire to kitchen, which shared a wall with the girls' bedroom. Another was on the other side of the children's room in Bassett's bedroom, and another in the bathroom across the hall.

Bassett never roused the sleeping girls.

"She literally surrounded her children with fire, and she didn't wake the girls up," Dinger said.

Instead, one of the girls woke to the sound of the fire alarm going off. She quickly roused her sisters, and the trio left the bedroom to see Bassett standing over the fire in the kitchen.

Dinger said Bassett told them to save the car - not themselves - and disappeared.

"Ms. Bassett, besides starting this fire, did nothing to help her children," he said.

As the girls escaped from the burning home, Bassett remained behind, and kept lighting fires. Neighbors called 911 after hearing explosions coming from the house and spotting the flames. Firefighters arrived at the scene to find the front windows blown out and the garage door bulging from the pressure.

Previous: Woman accused of setting fire to home with 3 children inside

All three girls escaped unhurt, but the home was engulfed in flame. Fire investigators immediately suspected arson, but Bassett pointed the finger at her ex, who was opposing Bassett in the upcoming custody hearing.

Dinger said Bassett told investigators the man had knowledge of explosives and had previously threatened to burn her house down.

Dinger says that wasn't true. Still, it took investigators months to tie Bassett to the fire. She was arrested in October 2013, almost ten months after the blaze. Bassett pleaded guilty to arson and felony injury to child in June.

But defense attorney Jeff Nona said she never intended to hurt her daughters. He argued Bassett remembers little about setting the fires, and claimed she had taken sleeping pills and anti-anxiety medication that night, although Dinger contended those medications were not present in a drug screening.

"I question whether she had the deliberate intent to harm," Nona said.

He also urged the judge to take written impact statements from the three girls with a grain of salt. The children, now living with their fathers, were in court during the sentencing.

In the statements, one of the girls describes living with her mother as a "nightmare."

But Nona pointed to similar language and sentencing requests between the girls' letters and their fathers' and raised the idea that what the children wrote children may have been influenced by Bassett's exes.

"Consider the fact there might have been some influence in their creation," he told Judge Richard Greenwood.

Nona asked the judge to give Bassett a chance at rehabilitation, noting a mental evaluators had found symptoms of depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, and borderline personality disorder.

The 315 days Bassett has spent behind bars, coupled with losing custody of her children was a harsh enough punishment, he said.

Nona and Dinger suggested the same sentence - 20 years, with three years before a chance at parole - but the defense attorney asked Greenwood to retain jurisdiction. Entry into the rider program would give Bassett a chance to get help for her mental problems, he argued.

Bassett also pleaded for retained jurisdiction as she read a hand-written statement to the court. Through sobs, she said hoped to someday again have a relationship with her daughters.

"What my desire as a mother who loves them very, very much is that they are happy, healthy and safe," she said. "It hurts me terribly to admit that I hurt them deeply, and right now it is important that they are not with me while I rebuild myself."

But Greenwood sided with the prosecution in imposing the 20-year sentence with three years before parole eligibility.

Greenwood lambasted Bassett for not taking full responsibility for the crimes and said the seriousness of the case did not merit probation or retained jurisdiction.

"It is an evil thing to burn down a house with some children in it," he told her, noting that it did not matter whether she had intended to cause the girls' deaths. "Just the fact of doing it, and knowing that they're there is sufficiently horrible to justify this sentence."

Idaho Department of Health and Welfare spokesman Tom Shanahan says state law prohibits him from commenting on or confirming any cases, but he did comment on similar cases where abuse escalates.

"The sad thing is that we can have repeated referrals, and they may be minor: Yelling at a child, spanking a child," Shanahan said. "But we just can't predict when they may escalate into something more serious, and that's probably the biggest concern of our social workers. They live with it everyday. 'Am I doing the right thing and taking appropriate action on this case?'"

Shanahan says the department looks into any case where a history has escalated to the level of Bassett's.

"We pretty much look at all cases that would escalate to this level and do a review pretty much as a team to figure out, OK, what can we do to prevent stuff like this from happening?" Shanahan said.


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