By Andria Simmons
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
With three children dead and a fourth in the custody of her mother, 24-year-old Neibi Brito already has faced dire consequences from her involvement in a Lilburn methamphetamine manufacturing ring.
There was still more fallout Wednesday after she entered a guilty plea to charges of voluntary manslaughter, drug trafficking, manufacturing meth and having children present during the manufacturing of meth. Gwinnett County Superior Court Judge Melodie Snell Conner sentenced Brito to 30 years in prison followed by 20 years on probation and a $1.3 million fine. By the time Brito gets out, her last surviving child — the daughter she birthed while incarcerated — will be 20 years old.
Her other three children, 21-month-old Stacy Brito, 3-year-old Jose Ivan Guevara and 4-year-old Isaac Guevara, died Feb. 17, 2011, after a meth lab caught fire in their rental house on Spring Mill Drive. Bystanders rescued the kids from a second-story bedroom, where they had become trapped by the encroaching flames. However, they died shortly after being hospitalized.
Each child inhaled soot and smoke. The two boys sustained burns over 60 percent of their bodies and the toddler’s injuries were even worse, with more than three-quarters of her body singed, according to Deputy Chief Assistant District Attorney Lisa Jones.
When asked if she wanted to say anything prior to sentencing, Neibi Brito told the judge, “Only that I’m very sorry.
“I understand that we all make mistakes,” Brito murmured, her voice trembling. “I was 22 at that time. Now I know better.”
Brito’s codefendant, Joseph Alexander Perez, 32, born in Chicago, also pleaded guilty to the same charges and received an identical sentence. Prosecutors said Perez was not living at the home, but he was there when the fire broke out. His role was to help transport the dope in a Honda Pilot outfitted with a secret compartment, Jones said. The Honda was parked in the driveway when firefighters responded to the blaze.
Inside the house, authorities found coolers full of brown liquid meth that was being washed with acetone, dried into a crystal form and then packaged for distribution. They also found $192,000 in cash stashed in the dining room walls and several thousand dollars more squirreled away in a drawer and a cellphone box in the master bedroom, prosecutors said.
Perez softly told the judge, “I’m just sorry,” when given an opportunity to speak at the hearing. His defense lawyer, Rob Greenwald, added that Perez “feels God-awful” about what happened.
Brito and Perez were indicted on murder charges. They were convicted of the lesser offense of voluntary manslaughter as part of a negotiated guilty plea that came five days before their trial was scheduled to start. If they had been convicted of murder, the two could have faced life in prison.
A third alleged conspirator, Brito’s roommate Ivan Gonzalez, is still at large. As part of the plea deal, Brito and Perez agreed to cooperate with prosecutors if he is ever captured and tried.
Brito was a legal Mexican immigrant, but her resident-alien status will expire while she’s in jail. She is likely to be deported upon her release because of her felony conviction.
Her defense attorney, Maryann Blend, said the only thing Brito has to look forward to now is the daughter she gave birth to seven months after her arrest. Blend told the judge that her client was “here as a mom taking responsibility.”
But Brito and Perez both were treated to a tongue-lashing by Conner before they were led away in shackles and green jail jumpsuits.
“There is nothing good to say about this case because these three little babies just didn’t deserve that,” Conner said. “Anybody that thinks drugs don’t kill just needs to take a brief look at this case.”
Atlanta Criminal Attorney