By M.L. JOHNSON / Associated Press

MILWAUKEE (AP) -- A Wisconsin woman who had been repeatedly warned not to leave her children alone was sentenced Friday to 18 years in prison and 18 years of extended supervision after three of them died in a house fire.

Angelica D. Belen told investigators she locked her 5-year-old daughter, Nayeli Colon, and 4-year-old twin sons, Adrian and Alexis Colon, in a bedroom on April 11 because she needed to go to a new job and didn't want them wrecking the house or getting outside where neighbors could see they were unattended. The children died of smoke inhalation and burns after a faulty electrical connection ignited in the kitchen of the home in the Milwaukee suburb of West Allis. Their bodies were found under a bedroom dresser.

Belen had faced up to 15 years of initial confinement and 10 years of extended supervision in each death. She pleaded guilty in July to three counts of felony child neglect.

Belen, 25, grew up in homes marked by child abuse. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel first reported that Belen was 3 in 1992, when her 17-month-old sister was found beaten and starved in her crib in Milwaukee. Belen's mother was sentenced to eight years in prison for child neglect, and her boyfriend was convicted of beating the child.

The surviving siblings were placed in foster homes, where court records show Belen was abused. She received counseling for attention deficit and bipolar disorders.

As an adult, Belen received multiple warnings from the Bureau of Milwaukee Child Welfare for repeatedly leaving her children alone. She was charged with misdemeanor child neglect in March after allegedly leaving her twins and youngest son in a car while she went in a store with her daughter. The twins got out of the car, and a witness said one was almost struck by another car.

Caseworkers said Belen didn't know better, given her upbringing.

'This is how she was raised,' one report said. 'She denied being aware that this was against the law. Ms. Belen stated that her mother would run into the store leaving her in the car and had left her home alone to run somewhere.'

Belen's youngest child, Wilfredo Belen, was visiting his father when the house fire happened. Belen told investigators that she knew she wasn't supposed to leave the other children alone, but she needed to go to work and couldn't find a baby-sitter, the criminal complaint said.

While Belen had been charged with child neglect before, the children were never removed from her care. A Wisconsin Department of Children and Families investigation later determined the Bureau of Milwaukee Child Welfare hadn't handled her case properly and overhauled the bureau's in-home services program, which had been responsible for the family.

Changes to the child welfare system in the wake of the case include more staff training, increased home visits and longer program stints for families.

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