HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Eileen Tojo faced up to five years in prison for illegally taking her infant son to Japan amid a bitter custody battle.
She fled in 2013 and only returned last year.
"I know I was wrong, but I felt it was the only thing I could do to protect my children," said Tojo, in a tearful plea to Circuit Court Judge Karen Nakasone.
Nakasone allowed her to avoid prison time Thursday, with a deferred acceptance of a no contest plea.
Prosecutors had argued for time behind bars, saying she was a danger to children and that claims of abuse were unsubstantiated.
"In the state's opinion and the ends of justice and welfare of society do require that she suffer the penalty imposed by law," said Prosecutor Rafael Renteria. "In the state's opinion, she's a danger to children."
Tojo fled the country with her son during a custody dispute with the boy's father, sparking an international missing child search.
Tojo hasn't seen her son since July, when she was arrested at Honolulu's airport.
Now it's up to the family court to decide if and when she can see her son again.
"With today's sentencing done, it's one step moving forward. That means a lot to me," she said.
The judge acknowledged the years of turmoil for the boy's father and grandparents.
They were not in court Thursday, but wrote letters to the judge.
Nakasone said Tojo accepted responsibility and had already spent five weeks behind bars.
"The character and attitude of the defendant indicate that she is unlikely to commit another crime. She does appear to be remorseful of her crime," Nakasone said.
"She basically is a good person who made a mistake," said defense attorney Tommy Waters.
If Tojo follows the rules of her probation for four years, she won't have a criminal record.