Brittany Pilkington regained custody of her kids, 3-month-old Noah and 3-year-old Hailey, less than a week before police were called to her apartment in Bellefontaine, Ohio, and found Noah dead. Now charged with murder, Pilkington, 23, admitted to smothering Noah with a blanket, along with two other sons over 13 months, because her husband Joseph, 43—who'd had a previous relationship with her mom—paid more attention to them than to their daughter, whom she called her best friend, police tell the Dayton Daily News. Many officials who have been involved with the Pilkingtons along the way are distraught. But they say they pushed the law, which stops officials from removing children from parents if prior sibling deaths are undetermined, as far as it would allow. "We knew that something wasn't right," prosecutor Bill Goslee says. "But the law doesn't work on hunches. The law works on evidence."
Three-month-old Niall's July 2014 was "a suspected SIDS death—a cause is undetermined," says Goslee, though police say they noted Pilkington's emotionless manner. When 4-year-old Gavin died in April, the cause of death was again undetermined. On May 14, Pilkington gave birth to Noah and Children Services immediately placed him in foster care with a "dirty and disheveled" Hailey, reports the Columbus Dispatch. During a hearing on Aug. 11, a guardian appointed by the court, a prosecutor, a police detective, a nurse, and a doctor argued the children were neglected and needed help. The Daily News frames the hearing as "contentious," and notes it lasted three days, when it's typically just a few hours. The Pilkingtons' lawyer argued the boys' deaths were caused by a genetic condition. Citing a lack of evidence of abuse or a crime, a judge returned the kids to their parents with plans to later test Noah and Hailey for the defect. (Read more Ohio stories.)