The Tempe mother who left her child alone inside a sweltering SUV while she went grocery shopping earlier this year has been sentenced to one year of probation.
Maria-Theresia Pio, 39, pleaded not guilty to child abuse during her arraignment in Maricopa County Superior Court in May. In November, she pleaded guilty to a lesser charge of endangerment.
Judge Daniella Viola sentenced Pio Wednesday.
"My four children are loved, well-planned and cared for children. To leave them in a car and put them in jeopardy for 10 minutes, let alone 45, is completely unacceptable to me," Pio said in an exclusive interview with CBS5.
Eight months after the incident, Pio's life has been turned upside-down. Because of her conviction, she will no longer be able to work and volunteer at her kids' school.
Pio did not detail the events that led up to her arriving at a grocery store and leaving her 15 month old boy, Drake, asleep in the back seat.
Police arrested Pio April 12 as she left a Fry's Food Store after shopping for 41 minutes, according Tempe Police Lt. Mike Pooley.
Surveillance videos at the grocery store show that Pio was in no hurry to complete her shopping as her 15-month-old sat in the black luxury SUV.
"I think people believe I used my car as a babysitter and that's absolutely not the case," Pio said.
A passer-by told Estaban Soto, an off-duty Tempe first-responder, that she had heard a baby crying inside a vehicle in the parking lot of the store at 9900 S. Rural Road, according to a court document.
Soto was working at a muscular dystrophy donation booth in front of the Fry's Food store and said he noticed a window was cracked about one to two inches and that the toddler, who was in a child seat, was not fully shaded.
The Chandler Fire Department was able to get the door unlocked.
The interior temperature of the vehicle was measured at 124 degrees, and the infant car seat was 113 degrees, Pooley said. Measurements were taken using a digital infrared thermometer.
The child was taken to a local hospital, treated and then released to his father, Pooley said.
"When the police officer came up to me and said, 'Do you have a baby in the car,' I was horrified," Pio said. "For the past eight months we have been living a nightmare."
Pio was hoping for a better outcome than a conviction and a year-long probation. There's no law specific to hot car cases. She was initially charged with child abuse.
The high-profile case involving Shanesha Taylor, who left her kids in a hot car while on a job interview, was a similar story with a potentially different outcome.
Maricopa County prosecutors promised to drop the charges against Taylor if she put money in a trust for her kids to cover daycare and higher education.
Pio wasn't offered any kind of deal and she believes the county attorney isn't prosecuting cases equally.
"The state deals with it in different ways. It's not consist ant. I don't know how you can call inconsistency fairness," Pio said. "Ms. Taylor got a gift. The woman who left her friends kid in the car and wasn't charged and the child died. She got a gift as well. I didn't receive that gift."
Spokesman Jerry Cobb, on behalf of Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery, said a jury might have felt more sympathetic towards Shanesha Taylor and that's one of the reasons there was a deal on the table to drop all charges against her.
A deal that isn't an option anymore because she failed to satisfy the agreed upon terms.
Cobb also told CBS5 the appropriate resolution to each case is based on what would best protect the children involved.
Because Pio's conviction won't allow her to work with kids she has found a way to share her experience with parents that warns them of the perils of vehicles.
The group kidsandcars.org is a national organization that brings awareness to accidents involving kids and cars and promotes laws that make vehicles safer.
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