Paragraph two reads "But in the first day of a two-day trial yesterday in Queen Anne's County Circuit Court in Centreville, two state-paid psychiatrists testified that Victoria Sparrow planned how she was going to kill the girl – even laying out those plans six weeks earlier to a nurse practitioner at the family doctor's office. They said Sparrow was able to control her actions in almost every other aspect of her life."
Judge to decide if mother was insane
Attorneys: Kent Island woman told nurse practitioner she planned to kill her daughter
By SCOTT DAUGHERTY, Staff Writer
A Kent Island woman knew it was wrong last December when she killed her 3-year-old daughter and tried to kill herself, but she was so depressed she couldn't stop herself, according to a psychiatrist hired by her defense attorney.
But in the first day of a two-day trial yesterday in Queen Anne's County Circuit Court in Centreville, two state-paid psychiatrists testified that Victoria Sparrow planned how she was going to kill the girl – even laying out those plans six weeks earlier to a nurse practitioner at the family doctor's office. They said Sparrow was able to control her actions in almost every other aspect of her life.
"She was able to delay acting," said Dr. Annette Hanson, a forensic psychiatrist at the state's Clifton T. Perkins Hospital Center in Jessup. "This was someone who thought about it … and carried it out."
All three doctors testified as part of an extended nine-hour hearing to determine if Sparrow, 43, of Stevensville, was legally insane Dec. 18 when she poisoned her daughter, Laci, inside their home.
Sparrow pleaded guilty yesterday to first-degree murder in the death, but argued she was "not criminally responsible" for her actions because she could not control herself, prompting the rare, contested hearing, which focused entirely on the doctors, their opinions and how they reached those opinions.
Prosecutors and defense attorneys this morning began their closing arguments before Judge Thomas G. Ross, but neither attorney expected him to issue an immediate ruling.
"There is just so much information," said Queen Anne's County State's Attorney Lance Richardson, echoing the comments of defense attorney Peter S. O'Neill.
Ross – not a jury – will make the final decision.
If found responsible, Sparrow, who is being held at the Queen Anne's County Detention Center, faces up to life in prison.
If found not criminally responsible, Sparrow can be held at a state hospital until a doctor decides she is no longer a danger to herself or others.
Sparrow, a Severna Park High School graduate and a clerk for Anne Arundel County Circuit Court in Annapolis, admitted yesterday that she ground up numerous prescription drugs, including codeine and Ambien, and mixed them into her daughter's food. She then tried to kill herself with the same drug mixture, according to court testimony.
All three experts diagnosed Sparrow with major depressive disorder, a relatively common mental disorder characterized by general sadness and malaise lasting several weeks or months. They said Sparrow was depressed because her marriage was falling apart and she was having trouble at work.
The experts were surprised to learn about a Nov. 5 doctor's appointment in Stevensville. They said Sparrow told a nurse practitioner she was considering using sedatives to kill herself, her daughter and her dog, but that medical professional did not contact the authorities or otherwise try to get Sparrow committed to a psychiatric hospital.
After hearing Sparrow had just stopped taking the antidepressant Prozac for fear it was causing the suicidal thoughts, the nurse practitioner let her go home with the instruction to come back if she didn't feel better, the doctors said.
"I think they misjudged the level of malignance," said Dr. David Williamson, the forensic psychiatrist hired by the defense.
Officials with the doctor's office could not be reached for comment this morning.
But the two state experts disagreed with the defense expert on why Sparrow decided to kill her child. Dr. Monica Polk, another forensic psychiatrist, said Sparrow did it to hurt her husband, Jeffrey.
"I believe it was primarily a revenge killing," Polk said.
That motive, coupled with the facts that Sparrow planned the homicide in advance, didn't act immediately and was otherwise able to live a normal life, led the two psychiatrists to conclude that Sparrow was capable of controlling herself and was therefore legally responsible for her actions.
Williamson, however, said Sparrow had altruistic motives when she killed her daughter. He believed the homicide was a misguided attempt to protect the girl from a life without a mother.
"She felt the child would have suffered if she was not there," he said, arguing she was not criminally responsible.
Paramedics and police were called to Sparrow's home shortly before 3 p.m. after her 18-year-old son called 911 and reported that his mother was sick and disoriented.
Medics arrived, searched the home and found Laci alone and unconscious in the master bedroom. The girl and her mother were taken to Anne Arundel Medical Center in Parole, where the child died at 3:40 p.m.
According to court testimony, Sparrow almost died as well. She was on a ventilator for several hours at the hospital before she ultimately woke up and confessed to what she had done.
Sparrow came to court yesterday wearing mismatched prison scrubs – green pants and a dark brown shirt over a white, long-sleeved thermal T-shirt. She sat quietly next to her attorney for most of the hearing, not moving or speaking to anyone.
A handful of friends and family sat behind Sparrow in the courtroom, some supporting the defense and others supporting the prosecution. After the hearing ended, Sparrow's detractors said Richardson had made his case.
"Laci will get her justice," said Heather Sparrow, the slain girl's half-sister.