On Friday, nearly two decades after she abducted an hours-old infant from a hospital in Florida and then raised the girl as her own, a South Carolina woman was reportedly sentenced to 18 years in prison for kidnapping — the length of time the stolen child lived away from her biological family.
“There are no winners and no losers in this case,” Judge Marianne Aho said at the sentencing hearing for 52-year-old Gloria Williams, of Walterboro, according to the Associated Press.
Williams pleaded guilty earlier this year to kidnapping and custodial interference. Under the terms of her plea deal, she could be sentenced to no more than 22 years in prison. She was ordered on Friday to serve five years concurrently for the interference charge.
Williams was sentenced in Duval County, Florida, where she kidnapped newborn Kamiyah Mobley from UF Health Jacksonville, then called University Medical Center, on July 10, 1998, while she was disguised as a nurse.
She said at a sentencing hearing last month that she smuggled Kamiyah out of the building in a bag, local TV station WJAX reported. She had not planned that day to steal a baby when — having recently miscarried — she traveled from her South Carolina home to Florida, she said: “I felt like I was on autopilot. My life was out of control, I lost everything.”
Mobley’s mother, Shanara Mobley, was 16 years old and has said she trusted Williams because the older woman spent hours getting to know her and Kamiyah.
Neither a prosecutor’s spokesman nor Mobley’s attorney immediately responded to PEOPLE’s request for comment.
The headline-making case broke open in January 2017, when authorities announced that anonymous tips led them to discover Williams raised Kamiyah in South Carolina under the name Alexis Manigo and that Kamiyah believed Williams was her biological mother.
The revelation that Kamiyah was alive and well attracted international attention, and her return came as a startling relief to her biological family.
Still, the confirmation of her life as an unwitting kidnapping victim set up a series of thorny entanglements for her and her loved ones — between those who raised her and those she had been stolen from for so long.
“It doesn’t heal now. I’m still hurting. When you’re reaching out to my child, that is my child,” Shanara said in court in May. “I am your mother, Kamiyah! I am your mother.”
Of her enduring heartache — each year buying a cake to mark another passing birthday for her missing daughter, Shanara said, “I always thought about my baby every day, every day, every day. I would catch myself in my car crying, in bed crying, taking a bath crying, doing something with her siblings and crying.”
While on the stand during a two-day hearing in May, Williams apologized to Kamiyah’s parents and told her, “I never meant to cause you any harm, any pain, any of that,” according to WJAX.
In the months since Williams’ arrest, Kamiyah has acknowledged the wrongfulness of what was done to her as a baby while also continuing to note that, even if she was raised by her abductor, she was raised in a loving and seemingly normal household.
“From that one mistake, I was given the best life. I was,” Kamiyah said last year. “I had everything I ever needed, wanted. I had love especially. I understand what she did was wrong, but just don’t lock her up and throw away the key like everything she did was just awful.”
Kamiyah, now 19, did not attend Friday’s sentencing but had asked for leniency for Williams, according to her attorney.
“Kamiyah is now processing what it means for the woman she’s known as mother to receive an 18-year prison sentence,” Justin Bamberg said, the Post & Courier reports. “However, she understands Gloria had to be held accountable for her actions. She also understands that her biological parents have the absolute right to view today as a joyous day.”
Kamiyah’s mother, however, had asked at least for the maximum possible term of 22 years in prison. If she had her way, Shanara said, Williams would have been put to death.
In a statement, Williams’ attorney Diana Johnson said they had “hoped for” a lighter sentence but nonetheless “appreciate the time and attention Judge Aho took to fully consider this matter,” according to ABC News.
Johnson said Williams was also thankful for “everyone involved in her defense as well as all of the people who either wrote letters or appeared on her behalf.”
Kamiyah’s father, Craig Aiken, told reporters after the sentencing that, with it resolved, “We can continue on our journey of healing together as a family and support our daughter on her decision making.”
Kamiyah’s mother did not comment after court, according to news reports, though others of her biological relatives expressed their joy.
According to the Post & Courier, Kamiyah still lives in Walterboro but spends time with her family in Jacksonville
After Friday’s hearing, her grandmother Velma Aiken reportedly said: “I can love my grandbaby as my own now.”
SOURCE: ADAM CARLSON