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The Sydney Morning Herald
October 20, 2007
A 37-year-old woman who drowned her five-year-old son during a major depressive illness triggered by the breakdown of her marriage and the first anniversary of her mother’s suicide, has been absolved of criminal responsibility for the boy’s death.
Justice Elizabeth Fullerton gave her reasons in the Supreme Court today for acquitting the woman of murder by reason of mental illness.
The woman sobbed and held the arm of her solicitor, Mr Stuart Tipple, throughout the half-hour the judge took to read her prepared reasons for the verdict handed down at a hearing in Gosford last month.
Before the judge alone and no jury, the woman had pleaded not guilty to murdering her son.
With a 17-year history of recurrent depression, particularly after the birth of her son six years ago, the woman had left notes showing her intention to commit suicide herself in August last year after visiting her mother’s grave on the Central Coast.
One of the notes, addressed to “dearest heavenly father”, outlined how she could not bear to think of her son growing up without a mother.
After taking a double dose of her recently-resumed anti-depressant medication, the woman had told her son they were going to sleep and would wake up with the child’s grandmother who was with Jesus.
When her husband, who had been delayed at work, arrived at his home in the late afternoon of August 21 last year, he found a note addressed to him.
It stated: “Please know that GOD LOVES YOU and so do we. I just wish it was different”. It was signed with love from both his estranged wife and his son.
He heard splashing and rushed to the bathroom to find his fully clothed wife cradling their son in her arms, probably minutes after his death.
Desperate attempts by police to revive the boy, who had been given a Phenergan-type medication after being bitten earlier that day by an ant to which he was apparently allergic, were in vain. Three officers cried in defeat and one walked outside and vomited, the court heard on the last occasion.
The judge was satisfied that on that day and by reason of mental illness the woman’s capacity “to think rationally was temporarily suspended, depriving her of the capacity to consider the moral or legal consequences of her behaviour.
“Her defective reasoning enabled her to form a belief that to achieve release from the pain and grief she was experiencing it was a reasonable course of action for her to take her own life and, since she could not consider her son living without her, that it was also right that she take his life as well.”
The judge found that the woman’s religious beliefs, enmeshed with her illness, apparently encouraged her to think that by killing herself and her son “they would together find a greater peace and ultimately their resurrection”.
” … I am satisfied that her inability to see her son as a separate psychological and physical entity was a manifestation of her illness” – a matter with which three independent psychiatrists who each compiled two reports on the woman’s mental state, also agreed.
“I have no doubt that she has felt and will continue to feel her own personal sense of responsibility for her actions and that she is deeply remorseful for the pain she has caused [the boy’s] father,” Justice Fullerton said.
Justice Fullerton stressed that the woman had been acquitted of any criminal responsibility for her son’s death and was free to leave the court with special conditions related to psychiatric care.
It was important, the judge said, that she deliver her reasons publicly to explain her findings both to the woman and the community.
The woman posed no threat the community, including children, or to herself, the judge concluded.