DiManno: What drove a mother to drown her daughters — (The Sunday Star)

SSRI Ed note: Mom with no coping skills and no support system takes psychoactive medication, loses custody of kids, drowns them. Mental illness is blamed.

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The Sunday Star

The explanations for what drove Elaine Campione to kill her daughters were all-encompassing and scattershot in her lawyer’s closing arguments Thursday.

Elaine Campione is charged with killing her two daughters, 3-year-old Serena and 19-month-old Sophia.


The fault lies elsewhere, anywhere, other than with the mother who admits to drowning her two young daughters, holding their small heads under water in the bathtub until the air bubbles disappeared.

Perhaps it was a recurring episode of delusional psychosis, a shattered mind incognizant of moral wrongness.

Could have been the “system’’ — medical or child welfare, take your pick — that failed to intervene and follow up, despite alarming signals of mental imbalance.

Maybe it was the grandmother, whose exhaustion with an erratic daughter’s rapid-fire mood shifts forced her to bow out of the picture, reversing the temporary guardianship order she’d earlier accepted, realizing it would mean a hugely disruptive geographical relocation.

Or the allegedly abusive estranged husband instilling such fear in his cowering wife that she genuinely believed her very life was at risk, and that of their children, even to the extent that the little girls would be better off “in heaven’’ than living with dad — a father chasing hospital records to support his full custody application.

Might have been the antipsychotic pills that the defendant failed to take, or ceased taking when the most overt symptoms began to subside, or rotated on and off — perchance rendering the medication itself an inadvertent contributor to bizarre behaviour.

Or the car accident as a teenager, which had caused significant head trauma, with after-effects that may have taken 15 years to become evident.

Or postpartum depression.

The proffered explanations for Elaine Campione’s homicidal compulsion — filicide is the technical term to describe parents killing their children — were all-encompassing, scattershot on Thursday as her defence lawyer sifted through the evidence a jury has seen and heard over the past five weeks, in closing arguments that will continue today.

This trial, Mary Cremer told the court, is “no doubt one of the most sad, gut-wrenching and tragic cases there is.’’

From the start, the defence has acknowledged Campione “caused the girls to drown’’— 3-year-old Serena and 19-month-old Sophia — on Oct. 2, 2006. But Cremer is arguing passionately that Campione — endlessly sobbing and whimpering into a crumpled tissue — should be found “not criminally responsible’’ by reason of mental illness.

The prosecution maintains 35-year-old Campione knowingly and willfully murdered the siblings as a “spouse revenge killing,’’ out of rage at her former husband, Leo, and to prevent him gaining custody.

Repeatedly, the jury of six men and six women has watched a horrifying videotape that Elaine Campione made the night the girls were drowned — footage that shows the children playing happily, Sophia splashing in the bath and then — not long after the drowning — their haggard mother sitting on a couch, facing the camera, directing a tirade at Leo: “There, are you happy now?’’ she demands, witheringly. “How does it feel?’’

And: “You can take your engagement ring and stick it where the sun don’t shine.’’

Campione, court has heard, spent all of Oct. 3 in her Barrie apartment with the dead children, grooming them, dressing them in pretty nightclothes, threading a rosary through their clasped fingers, before finally calling police early on Oct. 4, reporting the girls were dead. When police arrived, she pointed them to the bedroom, where the sisters were lying together. “Yes, they’re dead in my bed,’’ she had said evenly, politely.

Cremer told the jury Campione had spun abruptly into madness the evening she killed the girls, her longstanding depression sinking into a more lethal derangement, a woman at the end of her unraveling tether of sanity as she faced — alone and without crucial emotional support — a custody hearing scheduled for later in the week. Campione was convinced the proceeding would result in loss of custody once her medical records and earlier suicide attempts were revealed in family court.

The defendant’s mental anguish — which included three psychiatric hospitalizations and three outpatient treatments over the previous year — had “gripped her and was plaguing her and deprived her of the ability to make rational choices and rational decisions,’’ said Cremer.

Exactly a year earlier, Campione’s condition had deteriorated to the point that she disassociated completely from reality, Cremer reminded, a period in which she believed Leo was trying to have her, possibly even the children, killed. When released from hospital on that occasion, Campione had gone to the residence of her in-laws, running from room to room, claiming to see aliens.

Campione’s mother, Faye Goodine, had come from New Brunswick to watch over her needy daughter for several weeks. Called as a witness by the defence, Goodine testified to Elaine’s erratic conduct and obsessive-compulsive tics — how she wouldn’t let Serena touch anything red, because the colour symbolized blood; how she wouldn’t park her vehicle beside any black cars.

Yet Campione’s condition had “glimmerings of improvement’’ over subsequent months. Having made the decision to leave her husband, she’d moved first to a women’s shelter and then to her own apartment. It was the following June 2006, that her symptoms appear to have overwhelmed the woman again, an attempted suicide landing her back in hospital.

Upon discharge, Campione did not receive the ongoing psychiatric treatment that had been urged, though Cremer conceded she “was not an easy patient’’ and “didn’t make it easy for anyone to help her.’’

Cremer: “She’s released with essentially no support at all. . . . She doesn’t have coping skills for day-to-day life.

“Elaine couldn’t take care of herself, let alone these two children.’’

The breaking point, said Cremer, came when she met with a lawyer over the looming custody battle and apparently lost all hope of being able to persuade the court that she was a fit mother.

“The unthinkable and unspeakable happens,’’ said Cremer.

Scared to death of her husband, distraught over the hospital records and off her medication, Campione collapsed into delusional psychosis, Cremer argued. “Against all of this, Elaine never stood a chance.

“She drowns her children.’’

After killing the girls, Campione had intended to commit suicide, as seems evident by her videotaped rant. Yet the drug overdose she ingested did not take her life.

Psychiatric experts called by both the defence and the prosecution have differed sharply in their assessment of Campione’s mental state. Though there’s agreement that the accused suffered from some symptoms of mental illness, including elements of psychosis, paranoia and borderline personality disorder, an exact diagnosis is elusive.

Cremer attempted to characterize Campione’s bewildering state of mind, what might have possessed a mother to kill the daughters she so clearly adored.

“She doted on them. She was living only for them. It was her illness that robbed her of herself, the essence of her being, but also robbed her of her children, who were the essence of her life.’’


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Guilty Verdict For Barrie Woman Who Drowned Her Daughters

City News