April 5 (UPI) -- Two mothers intentionally wanted to drive their sport-utility vehicle, which carried six children, off a steep cliff in Northern California a year ago, a jury has decided.
Eight women and six men on the panel deliberated for less than an hour Thursday before deciding on a verdict in the case of Jennifer and Sarah Hart , declaring the two women and six children all died of a murder-suicide.
"The Hart family is hopefully resting in peace. The tragedy of the six children murdered should never be forgotten," said Mendocino County Sheriff Tom Allman.
The Harts had adopted the six children from foster homes in Texas and later moved to Oregon and Washington state. On March 24, 2018, their SUV drove off a cliff about 160 miles north of San Francisco. The body of one child was never found.
Jurors heard testimony this week detailing how the women planned the deaths. Prosecutors said Sarah Hart sought answers on the Internet about whether drowning is painful, death by hypothermia and how much sleep aid it would take to cause an overdose. Toxicology reports showed the Harts and some of the children, who were between 12 and 19 years old, had high doses of diphenhydramine in their systems. Some had enough to put them to sleep.
"For a person to be at that level of intoxication and to have that much alcohol in her system, it would be extremely difficult for that person to function," California Highway Patrol investigator Jake Slates testified. "It was investigators' belief that she was drinking to build up her courage."
Thursday, testimony focused on visits by Child Protective Services just hours before the crash. It said no one answered the door, but Jennifer Hart called her wife at work within minutes of the visit. Neighbors had called CPS after two of the children said the women had been starving them.
CHP investigator Timothy Roloff said data from the SUV's computer showed it accelerated from 6 mph to 20 mph in three seconds with the throttle 100 percent open as it went over the cliff. All six children were thrown because none were wearing seat belts.