Calling the case disgusting, a Montgomery County judge ordered a Gaithersburg woman to jail for 30 days yesterday for "committing crimes against her children" by leaving two toddlers and a 4-year-old girl alone in a house that police said was littered with feces, spoiled food, trash and bugs.

"This was more than a messy house," District Court Judge James L. Ryan said as he imposed the jail sentence on Cynthia D. Retherford, 34, after a three-hour trial. "This was reckless and careless. There was a complete disregard for the welfare of these little children."

Retherford was found guilty of three counts of child neglect and three counts of contributing to the delinquency of a minor by failing to provide proper supervision. Ryan sentenced her to a maximum three-year prison term but suspended all but 30 days and placed her on supervised probation for one year.

Before sentencing, Retherford, a widow, told Ryan she had tried to be a good mother to her six children. "I do love my children more than anything," she said. "I have never left them alone. They did not have marks on them when I left home. I don't know what happened that day."

Police were called to Retherford's town house on Goodpoint Lane on July 28 after a neighbor reported seeing two toddlers screaming and crying inside. According to court documents, police later found 26-month-old twin girls "nude and covered in feces" at the home. The 4-year-old girl was found outside, unsupervised in a dirty bathing suit, police said.

Officer Elizabeth Maddox testified yesterday that the house was in a "deplorable" condition. "There was fluid all over the floor, spoiled food, vomit. There wasn't a space on the floor that didn't have something on it. There were bugs and flies on the children."

Maddox also said the two toddlers had insect bites and scratches. Authorities have placed Retherford's three youngest children in foster homes pending a custody hearing.

Defense attorney Karl H. Gordon said Retherford, who works part time as a cashier, had left her two older daughters to baby-sit with the three younger children. Retherford also has a teenage son.

Yesterday, a sobbing Sherry Retherford, 13, testified that she had bathed and fed her younger siblings before getting permission from her mother to visit with a friend. The girl said the "house looked a lot better" when she left around midday.

Friends and neighbors testified yesterday that Retherford was trying to stay off welfare and provide for her children. "She was pedaling as fast as she could as a single mother with six kids in Montgomery County," neighbor Jack Strickland said.