Commentary by San Diego criminal lawyer Sam Spital:
“In the December 28, 2012 edition of the UT San Diego news, a 37 year old mother pled guilty to second degree murder for drowning her 4 year old autistic son. This is the case in which the mother drove to the police station with her lifeless infant in her car and confessed to the horrific crime shortly after the incident. The unforgivable motive for the killing seems apparent because the mother stated she had no life since she had to take care of her son. The article also revealed the mother unsuccessfully tried to drown herself.
The sentencing hearing is scheduled for January 28th at which point the mother faces 15 years to life in state prison for drowning her son. Little is known about the mother, including her mental state, past family, employment and social history, nor who is the father of the infant child. Some of these factors may be disclosed at the time of the next hearing. These will never excuse the actions of the defendant, but often assist the court in determining the nature and extent of a sentence in a criminal case.”
“The San Diego Union Tribune reported in the September 8, 2012 online edition that a mother drowned her four year old son. How outrageous could anything like this be? The article noted the mother thought of her own suicide but did not want to leave her son alone. Does this make sense? Of course not; anyone who would kill their child is a person needing skilled and comprehensive mental care and treatment.
No matter how serious the problem, it is unspeakable to take the life of another … let alone a family member; and, even worse a situation in which the life of one’s own child is sacrificed due to the pain and suffering experienced by a parent. It was reported the child was diagnosed as autistic at the age of one. Certainly, the child needed proper medical attention, and the article described the special care and steps taken by the parents to provide seemingly appropriate treatment. However, the process can take many years and the benefits may be slow and, at times, perhaps even seem futile. Nonetheless, there are many successful resources, including support systems and countless social programs, that are available. One should never give up, but even worse to drown their child to end his suffering seems more of an effort to end one’s own suffering. Clearly, the mother for the rest of her life will no doubt experience the guilt and pain associated with drowning her infant child. Apparently, the father was shocked when he heard about this while he was at work; he too is a victim of his wife’s crime and it is easy to see the suffering he will experience along with the guilt in not preventing the horrific murder.
The defense will no doubt raise an issue of the mother’s incapacity to know right from wrong, but more facts will likely surface to better evaluate the posture a defense lawyer might take to represent the mother in her criminal case. It was also reported that the mother drove to the police station after the drowning to turn herself in. It is not totally inconsistent for one to not know right from wrong at the time of the criminal wrongdoing, but later have remorse and/or comprehend she committed a homicide. The prosecution will likely argue against insanity, incapacity and/or mitigation raised by the defense.
The reader is left contemplating a whole panoply of thoughts and ideas.”
Sam Spital, Criminal Defense Lawyer