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A Missoula woman who tried to drown her 10-month-old son in the Clark Fork River last April was sentenced Monday to 20 years in the custody of the Department of Public Health and Human Services.

Sherri Renee Telnas was "in the throes of mental illness" when she submerged herself and her baby in the river, said Mineral County Attorney Shaun Donovan. Telnas then placed the child on the floor of her car and drove to Mineral Community Hospital in Superior.

When law enforcement arrived at the hospital and asked Telnas what had happened to the child, she told officers, "I tried to drown my baby," according to charging documents.

A medical examination indicated the baby had been submerged "for an appreciable period of time and had water in his lungs," which was visible in an X-ray photograph. The child has since recovered.

The incident occurred on April 16, 2008, and in November Telnas pleaded guilty to two counts of criminal endangerment. She was initially charged with attempted deliberate homicide, but the charges were reduced after authorities determined that Telnas, in her state of mind, could not have acted "purposely or knowingly." Those elements must be proven in order for prosecutors to show that a defendant acted deliberately.

Although Donovan requested that Telnas not have any contact with the child, Judge McLean ruled that custody issues would be determined in an abuse and neglect case pending against Telnas in Missoula County.

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The sentence requires Telnas to complete chemical dependency and mental health treatment.

Donovan said he was satisfied with the sentence, which both "holds Telnas accountable for her actions and ensures that this won't be repeated."

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