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West Texas airman's wife given 30 years in prison for her toddler's starvation death

ABILENE, Texas - A West Texas woman was sentenced to 30 years in prison Thursday for the starvation death of her 22-month-old daughter, who was found dead in her crib inside a squalid home while her father was on an Air Force deployment.

Tiffany Klapheke could have gotten life in prison after being found guilty Wednesday of injury to a child by malnutrition and dehydration in the 2012 death of her daughter, Tamryn.

The 23-year-old Klapheke did not testify at trial, but she has said her now ex-husband's deployment left her too stressed to care for the couple's three girls.

"I really wasn't a good mom the past few days," she told an Abilene police detective on Aug. 26, 2012, the day police found Tamryn dead at the family home. "I've been honest even though it makes me look horrible."

A video of the interview was played at her trial.

"I don't want you to take them away because I was lazy," Klapheke told the detective.

Investigators told the jury about the stench of urine and feces that prevailed in the Klapheke home when they arrived. Prosecutors alleged that Klapheke's two older daughters were not being fed.

According to the Abilene Reporter-News, prosecutor Joel Wilks said in his closing argument that Klapheke "turned her back," adding: "She shuts the door and she leaves. She leaves that child in pain."

Klapheke broke down in tears as the sentence was read, according to one of her attorneys, John Young. She will have to serve at least half of her sentence before she is eligible for parole.

Her attorneys argued during the trial that Klapheke's upbringing made her an unfit parent, and that she had suffered sexual abuse in foster care after her mother gave her up. They said she suffered from reactive attachment disorder, which is usually found in children who cannot form healthy attachments with parents or caregivers because of past neglect or abuse.

"Tiffany never had a chance," Young told The Associated Press in a phone interview after the sentence was handed down. "She was abused and abandoned and neglected from 5 years old. These things made it nearly impossible for her to ever function as an effective parent."

The state has temporary conservatorship of her other children. Their father, Air Force airman Thomas Klapheke, was granted restrictive custody.

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Information from: Abilene Reporter-News, http://www.reporternews.com

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