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Mom sentenced to 7 years for suffocating son

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A Hennepin County judge sentenced a 26-year-old mother to seven years in prison for suffocating her 3-month-old son in 2009, and attempting to do the same to her 8-month-old daughter in 2013.

In March, Ashleigh Casey pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in the death of her son, Alexander, who was found unresponsive in a St. Louis Park home after paramedics were called in 2009, reports say.

Officials weren't able to determine a cause of death at the time, but when investigators learned Casey tried to suffocate her 8-month-old daughter while she was a patient at University of Minnesota Amplatz Children's Hospital in 2013, they decided to look into Alexander's death, which resulted in charges last summer.

Casey then admitted to police that she placed a blanket over Alexander's mouth for a few minutes until he stopped breathing and she said she may have unconsciously covered her daughter's mouth and nose, the Star Tribune says.

When asked why she did this, Casey said she wanted them to get more attention from the doctors, charges say.

Casey has a disorder known as Munchausen-by-proxy syndrome, also known as factitious disorder, according to reports. Those who suffer from the disorder, often parents who hurt their kids, are known to harm others in order to get sympathy for themselves, according to the Mayo Clinic.

Judge Fred Karasov said Casey is mentally ill, but it's not severe enough to use as a legal defense. Although prosecutors had asked for a sentence of 12 years in prison – the punishment recommended by state sentencing guidelines – Karasov gave Casey less time because she was remorseful, had been successful in therapy and voluntarily had her fallopian tubes tied to prevent future pregnancies, the Star Tribune reports.

Casey's parental rights to her daughter have been terminated. After serving her prison term, she'll be on probation for 10 years, the newspaper says.

Last February, a Ramsey County judge sentenced Katie Elaine Lewis to four months in prison for attempting to suffocate her 5-month-old son by pinching his nose shut. She, too, was diagnosed with factitious disorder.

There are no reliable statistics on the number of people in the U.S. who suffer from the disorder, the Cleveland Clinic says, but it is estimated that about 1 percent of those admitted to hospitals are believed to have factitious disorder. The clinic says it can also be difficult to diagnose.

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