Mother says she never intended to neglect kids

3-year-old, 6-year-old found dead in pool in June 2010

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - A mother on trial in the drowning deaths of her two young children was emotional as she took the stand Thursday afternoon.

Jovita Ibeagwa said it was never her intention to neglect her children -- 6-year-old Gerrard and 3-year-old Blessing Ibeagwa -- when she left them home alone to go to work. They were later found dead in a neighbor's pool.

Jovita said her husband, MarkAnthony, assured her that he would take his break and be home for the children, and she was confident he would be.

"He gave me full assurance, because if he didn't give me assurance, I would have never afford to leave my children because they're the only hope I have in this life," Jovita said. "They're my life. They're my everything. Right now I don't have life. I don't have anything. I don't even have my marriage. I don't even have my husband.  Nothing."

Jovita described the last moments she spent with her children before shutting the door.

"When I was leaving, I kissed them," Jovita said. "They said, 'Mommy, kiss me bye bye.' I kissed them bye bye. They said, 'Mommy, I love you.' I said, 'I love you. Daddy's coming in the next five minutes. Daddy's going to be here.' I said, 'OK, bye bye, I love you.' I left."

Prosecutors said MarkAnthony didn't come home right away and stayed at work for two more hours.

She said the day they died was the first time she left them alone, which contradicted what police said she admitted to them when it happened. Investigators said Jovita and her husband admitted to leaving their kids alone on previous occassions.

Jovita said her world turned upsidedown when she got her husband's phone call telling her something was very wrong and their house was surrounded by police.

"I kept on calling him. I said, 'Tell me something. I just want to know something,'" Jovita said. "I can't even drive. 'Tell me what is going on. Did you see Gerrard?' I said, 'Did you see Blessing?' He said he did not see any of them."

Prosecutors said Jovita is the one who made the decision to leave her kids alone. They said she's the one who shut the door and she wouldn't be in court had she reconsidered that decision.

But Jovita insists she loved her children more than anything and wanted so desperately to have them.

"I prayed to have many children, but I spent four years in my marriage without any child," she said. "My life was messed up. I was abused physically and emotionally because I don't have a child."

The defense called two witnesses earlier Thursday. The first was Judith Namagembe, who, like Jovita, works at Shands Jacksonville Medical Center. She is a patient care associate.

The friends would take care of each other's children when the Ibeagwas schedules conflicted because Namagembe and Jovita were on opposite schedules at the hospital.

Namagembe testified that she planned on watching the kids that evening and was available after 7 p.m., but when they didn't show up, she figured the children's father had taken care of them.

Father Benjamin Onwumelu, a Catholic priest for 17 years and also from Nigeria, was the second witness to take the stand. He has known the Ibeagwas for nearly 30 years and testified to Jovita's reputation in Nigeria as being honest and truthful.

Defense attorneys and prosecutors have discussed their discrepancies over a piece of the evidence in the trial -- a phone call that took place between Jovita and MarkAnthony the night their children drowned.

The defense said Jovita called her husband at 6:30 p.m. that day in June 2010 to tell him to come home from work and watch the children because she had to leave for work, but there is no record of that call. The prosecution said the only call for which there is record of took place two hours later, long after Jovita left their home.

MarkAnthony's verdict remains sealed and will be read at the same time as his wife's verdict. Both are expected to be given Friday. Closing arguments in Jovita's trial will begin Friday morning.

A new jury is hearing Jovita's trial.

MarkAnthony Ibeagwa chose not to testify in his trial. The defense in his case told the jury it was the children's mother who left them alone.

Each parent could face up to 30 years in prison if convicted.

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