Mom seeks parole after killing daughter in 1990 — (The Salem News)

Original article no longer available

The Salem News

By Julie Manganis , Salem News Staff writer

January 24, 2007

BEVERLY – It’s been nearly 17 years since the horrific night Audrey Biancardi’s mother shot Audrey’s sister, Marcia, to death, then turned the gun on Audrey.

But for the fact that the shotgun jammed, Audrey Biancardi would also have likely died on Feb. 13, 1990.

“Even though I will never understand what happened, I want you to know that Susan Biancardi was a wonderful mother,” Audrey Biancardi, now 31, told the Parole Board yesterday.

Susan Biancardi, 59, went before the board yesterday to ask that she be released from state prison, where she has spent the past 15 years serving a life sentence for the death of Marcia, 16, and the attempted murder of Audrey, then 14.

It’s her first try at parole, and she won’t know whether she has succeeded for at least six weeks. If released, she said, she would move to Littleton, N.H., to live with her aunt, who is 74 and recently widowed.

Biancardi told board members she is sorry for what happened – even though she cannot remember any of it.

“I want to offer my deepest apologies to my daughter Audrey, my former husband, Philip, my extended family and friends, and, most of all, to my dear daughter Marcia,” Biancardi said in an opening statement.

“I do realize this apology will do nothing to bring Marcia back, but I want the board to understand,” she said.

Biancardi was assisted yesterday by Joanna Sandman, a third-year law student at Northeastern University School of Law, who told board members that Biancardi is not the same woman today she was in 1990.

At the time, Biancardi was suffering from an untreated bipolar disorder that “distorted her perception of life,” Sandman said.

After her daughters had gone to bed, Biancardi grabbed a shotgun her husband had stashed behind a bureau. First, she entered Marcia’s room and shot her to death. Then, she went into the room where she and Audrey slept and aimed the gun at her.

But the gun jammed, and Audrey pushed the gun away.

Biancardi then tried to shoot herself, but her daughter was able to get the gun away from her.

Sandman and Biancardi’s prison therapist said they believe Biancardi was psychotic at the time of the killing – a defense that failed during her first trial in 1992 (Biancardi was later granted a second trial but then agreed to plead guilty to second-degree murder to avoid going through that new trial in 1997.)

To this day, Biancardi suffers from what her prison therapist said is psychogenic amnesia, unable to recall what happened.

And, said her daughter, so does she.

“The mind is a very bizarre thing,” said Audrey Biancardi, trying to explain why both she and her mother cannot recall that night clearly. “Your mind suppresses things that happen to you.”

As both Biancardi and her daughter wept, Audrey Biancardi described how she struggles with conflicting emotions.

“The crime is horrendous,” Audrey said, “and I miss my sister dearly, but she was a mother I can only wish I was to my daughter.”

Mother figure

But while Audrey Biancardi, who has a 6-year-old daughter, believes her mother was a good mother, prosecutors are concerned that Susan Biancardi’s idea of what being a mother is could put the public at risk if she is released.

Assistant District Attorney Elin Graydon suggested the board look closely at the way Biancardi relates to others. At Framingham State Prison, the gray-haired Biancardi is considered a mother figure – but Graydon said Biancardi’s idea of motherhood involves asserting control over others.

“She was a good mother when her children were small, when she had control over their behavior,” Graydon said.

But as Marcia, in particular, grew up, Graydon pointed to testimony from friends who described Biancardi’s frustration with her older daughter.

“That kind of relationship led to the death of Marcia,” Graydon argued. She cited a conversation Biancardi had with Marcia’s riding instructor just two days before Marcia’s death, in which she complained of her daughter’s attitude and told the instructor Marcia would no longer be taking riding lessons.

And while the defense introduced evidence during Biancardi’s trial that she was psychotic, “there is equal evidence she was not,” Graydon said, including evidence that Biancardi knew enough to try to hide the gun, that she instructed Audrey and her husband not to tell police what had happened, and that she went so far as to suggest Marcia had committed suicide – a conclusion that was disproved only after a court inquest.

‘Feel like a monster’

Sandman argued that Biancardi has been stable and consistently taking her medication for the past seven years.

Board members asked a number of questions, however, about whether Biancardi’s use of alcohol at the time of the shooting is something that she still needs to address.

Biancardi repeatedly insisted that, though she was drinking daily before the shootings – and was arrested for drunken driving while out on bail, awaiting trial – alcohol is not a problem for her.

And board member Deborah McDonagh said she found it “curious” that Biancardi had been undergoing treatment for depression, yet continued to drink while taking medication.

Further, “It’s amazing, the level of detail you can recall just prior to and just after” the shooting, McDonagh said.

“I’m a totally different person today, ma’am,” Biancardi responded. “I would never put myself under the pressures today I did then.”

Board member Thomas Merigan Jr. asked Biancardi whether she is prepared to deal with the reactions – and probable rejections – she will face when she is released from prison.

“I feel like a monster,” Biancardi told her. “I’m sure other people look at me like I’m a monster. I felt some of that while I was out on bail. But I can deal with that, because today I am so much stronger.

“Yes, it was terrible what I did, but I was very ill,” Biancardi said.

After the hearing, Audrey Biancardi was asked whether she has forgiven her mother.

She declined to answer the question, saying she felt uncomfortable talking about it.

To this day, Biancardi suffers from what her prison therapist said is psychogenic amnesia, unable to recall what happened.

And, said her daughter, so does she.

“The mind is a very bizarre thing,” said Audrey Biancardi, trying to explain why both she and her mother cannot recall that night clearly. “Your mind suppresses things that happen to you.”

As both Biancardi and her daughter wept, Audrey Biancardi described how she struggles with conflicting emotions.

“The crime is horrendous,” Audrey said, “and I miss my sister dearly, but she was a mother I can only wish I was to my daughter.”

Mother figure

But while Audrey Biancardi, who has a 6-year-old daughter, believes her mother was a good mother, prosecutors are concerned that Susan Biancardi’s idea of what being a mother is could put the public at risk if she is released.

Assistant District Attorney Elin Graydon suggested the board look closely at the way Biancardi relates to others. At Framingham State Prison, the gray-haired Biancardi is considered a mother figure – but Graydon said Biancardi’s idea of motherhood involves asserting control over others.

“She was a good mother when her children were small, when she had control over their behavior,” Graydon said.

But as Marcia, in particular, grew up, Graydon pointed to testimony from friends who described Biancardi’s frustration with her older daughter.

“That kind of relationship led to the death of Marcia,” Graydon argued. She cited a conversation Biancardi had with Marcia’s riding instructor just two days before Marcia’s death, in which she complained of her daughter’s attitude and told the instructor Marcia would no longer be taking riding lessons.

And while the defense introduced evidence during Biancardi’s trial that she was psychotic, “there is equal evidence she was not,” Graydon said, including evidence that Biancardi knew enough to try to hide the gun, that she instructed Audrey and her husband not to tell police what had happened, and that she went so far as to suggest Marcia had committed suicide – a conclusion that was disproved only after a court inquest.

‘Feel like a monster’

Sandman argued that Biancardi has been stable and consistently taking her medication for the past seven years.

Board members asked a number of questions, however, about whether Biancardi’s use of alcohol at the time of the shooting is something that she still needs to address.

Biancardi repeatedly insisted that, though she was drinking daily before the shootings – and was arrested for drunken driving while out on bail, awaiting trial – alcohol is not a problem for her.

And board member Deborah McDonagh said she found it “curious” that Biancardi had been undergoing treatment for depression, yet continued to drink while taking medication.

Further, “It’s amazing, the level of detail you can recall just prior to and just after” the shooting, McDonagh said.

“I’m a totally different person today, ma’am,” Biancardi responded. “I would never put myself under the pressures today I did then.”

Board member Thomas Merigan Jr. asked Biancardi whether she is prepared to deal with the reactions – and probable rejections – she will face when she is released from prison.

“I feel like a monster,” Biancardi told her. “I’m sure other people look at me like I’m a monster. I felt some of that while I was out on bail. But I can deal with that, because today I am so much stronger.

“Yes, it was terrible what I did, but I was very ill,” Biancardi said.

After the hearing, Audrey Biancardi was asked whether she has forgiven her mother.

She declined to answer the question, saying she felt uncomfortable talking about it.

Board members asked a number of questions, however, about whether Biancardi’s use of alcohol at the time of the shooting is something that she still needs to address.

Biancardi repeatedly insisted that, though she was drinking daily before the shootings – and was arrested for drunken driving while out on bail, awaiting trial – alcohol is not a problem for her.

And board member Deborah McDonagh said she found it “curious” that Biancardi had been undergoing treatment for depression, yet continued to drink while taking medication.

Further, “It’s amazing, the level of detail you can recall just prior to and just after” the shooting, McDonagh said.

“I’m a totally different person today, ma’am,” Biancardi responded. “I would never put myself under the pressures today I did then.”

Board member Thomas Merigan Jr. asked Biancardi whether she is prepared to deal with the reactions – and probable rejections – she will face when she is released from prison.

“I feel like a monster,” Biancardi told her. “I’m sure other people look at me like I’m a monster. I felt some of that while I was out on bail. But I can deal with that, because today I am so much stronger.

“Yes, it was terrible what I did, but I was very ill,” Biancardi said.

After the hearing, Audrey Biancardi was asked whether she has forgiven her mother.

She declined to answer the question, saying she felt uncomfortable talking about it.

 

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On Trial: The Insanity Defense Susan Biancardi, Who Has A History Of Psychiatric Problems, Is Charged With Murdering Her Daughter. If She Did It, Should She Receive Treatment For Mental Illness Or Punishment For A Heinous Crime — (Boston Globe)

March 24, 1996

Author: Don Aucoin, Globe Staff

[]Susan Biancardi lived for her two daughters. Everyone said so, and it was hard to disagree. When Susan wasn’t with Marcia and Audrey — helping them shop for clothes at the local mall, driving them to cheerleading practice or horseback-riding lessons, praying with them in their pew at the Second Congregational Church, in Beverly — she was phoning them from her office at the Middleton Town Hall. Making sure they were safe.

Susan and her girls were together at their walnut-brown Cape house in Beverly on the night of February 13, 1990. Susan’s husband, Philip, was working the night shift at the GTE-Sylvania plant in Danvers. All winter, Susan and 16-year-old Marcia had been locked in a stormy contest of wills, as arguments over boyfriends and grades strained a relationship that had been very close. But the air had cleared a bit that day when Susan surprised each of her daughters with a Valentine’s Day gift of a bouquet of roses.

Later, Susan helped her younger daughter, Audrey, wrap Valentine’s presents for her classmates, then brushed Audrey’s hair as the two watched television. The next week was school vacation, so Marcia and a friend made plans over the phone to go dancing in the next few days. Then she went to the bathroom to brush her teeth. Marcia recently had begun to showcase her vocal talents in the Beverly High School chorus, and she sang as she brushed. Finally, she headed for her room.

Audrey was 14, but Susan still called her “my little Audrey” and often allowed the girl to sleep in her bed — as she did this night — because Audrey was plagued by nightmares. They chatted about the day, said their prayers, and turned out the light.

What happened next would plunge the Biancardi family into a personal hell, shock the city of Beverly, and thrust Susan Biancardi, who was then 42, into the middle of a legal, medical, and political debate over the insanity defense.

Shortly after midnight, a jury would later conclude, Susan Biancardi got out of bed, went through Marcia’s bedroom to the stairs that led to the attic, and took her husband’s 16-gauge, bolt-action shotgun from behind a bureau. It may have been the first time she had ever touched the weapon. She hated it and had told friends she wished that Philip Biancardi would get rid of it.

But on this night, prosecutors say, the gun was in Susan Biancardi’s hands. And this, they say, is what unfolded: Biancardi brought the gun downstairs, stood over the bed where Marcia lay sleeping, and put a blanket over the muzzle. She then held the gun 3 inches from Marcia’s body and pulled the trigger.

Audrey woke to hear her sister screaming, high-pitched cries of “Blood! Blood! Everywhere blood!” By then, Audrey’s mother was in the bed next to her. Susan Biancardi got up and returned to Marcia’s bedroom. Audrey heard her sister say, “Mother, stop!” She rushed to Marcia’s bedroom; from behind the closed door came her mother’s voice: “Go back to bed. Marcia had a bad dream.” But Audrey forced open the door.

Marcia was on her feet, unclothed, and she was covered in blood. “I thought it was ketchup,” Audrey would say later as she described the scene in court. Next to Marcia stood Susan Biancardi. Audrey, aware that Marcia often did have bad dreams, told the court that she assumed her sister would “take a shower and clean up,” and she went back to bed.

But within seconds, Susan Biancardi was at Audrey’s side. She pressed the muzzle of the shotgun against her daughter’s body and pulled the trigger, prosecutors say. The gun clicked — a misfire — and Audrey, unharmed, pushed the muzzle away. Then she scrambled out of bed and stumbled to her sister’s room. Marcia was slumped against the doorway, moaning, eyes flickering. She was bleeding to death.

Audrey ran down the hall to the living room to call police, and on the way she saw her mother in the bathroom, again with the shotgun. But this time, Audrey testified, Susan was pointing the gun at her own stomach. She pulled the trigger, but the gun didn’t go off.

Audrey stared into her mother’s eyes, where she had so often sought — and found — reassurance. But on this night, Susan Biancardi’s eyes had a look Audrey had never seen before. “It was like big eyes,” the girl told the jury. “Like scared. Like eyes popping out of your head.”

In the days following Marcia’s death, her classmates mourned the popular hockey cheerleader and assumed her death was a suicide. Police, however, suspected murder, and their suspicions focused on Susan Biancardi. Without Audrey Biancardi’s cooperation, however, they couldn’t make a case. For more than a year, Audrey kept silent. Then, suddenly, she went to the Beverly police station and offered to tell what she remembered of that night. She made clear that her goal was to get psychiatric h elp for Susan Biancardi. Through tears, Audrey told investigators: “My mother is a good mother.”

Based on her daughter’s testimony before a grand jury, Susan Biancardi was indicted on charges of first-degree murder and attempted murder. After a three-day trial in March 1992, a jury rejected the defense’s argument that Susan Biancardi was insane at the time of the murder and convicted her of both charges.

Before Judge John L. Murphy passed sentence, Audrey Biancardi pleaded with him to order psychiatric treatment, not prison, for her mother. “I truly believe that my mother had no control over her actions because of this illness,” she told the judge, fighting for breath. “I believe my sister, Marcia, who also loved my mother, would stand by her and support my decision.”

In Massachusetts, however, a first-degree murder conviction leaves no room for judicial discretion regarding sentencing. So, on March 20, 1992, as Audrey Biancardi clung to her mother and cried, “I love you so much, I love you,” the judge sentenced Susan Biancardi to life in prison without parole.

More than three years passed while Biancardi’s lawyers pressed an appeal. Then, last November, the commonwealth’s Supreme Judicial Court overturned Susan Biancardi’s conviction and ordered a new trial. In its decision, the SJC cited the trial judge’s failure to explain to jurors that if they found Susan Biancardi not guilty by reason of insanity, she would be sent to a psychiatric facility rather than granted instant freedom. The justices also used errors in Biancardi’s trial to lay down new ground rules, requiring that in all future trials involving the insanity defense, jurors be questioned individually about any bias toward insanity pleas. Those rules were followed during the recent trial of John Salvi, who pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity in the murders of two women at two Brookline health clinics.

At the heart of Biancardi’s new trial will be this issue: Was Susan Biancardi, who has a history of psychiatric problems, insane when she allegedly killed one daughter and tried to kill another? Or was she, as prosecutors insist, capable of controlling herself and understanding that her actions were wrong? In her new trial, if she is acquitted by reason of insanity, Biancardi could be sent to a mental institution until she is determined to be sane. If she is judged guilty a second time, she will be sent back to prison.

Despite the complexities of the case, one thing is certain: When Susan Biancardi again enters a courtroom to face the charge of murder, the insanity defense itself will be on trial. Is the insanity defense a necessary legal safeguard in a just society, or is it a loophole that lets the guilty get away with murder?

Gov. William F. Weld, who is pushing to abolish the insanity defense, says Biancardi is an example of a defendant pleading insanity to get away with a heinous crime. Weld’s argument is likely to resonate with a Massachusetts public that has grown weary of hearing the insanity defense used in one high- profile murder case after another: Henry Meinholz, Kenneth Seguin, John Salvi, Richard Rosenthal.

But for friends, neighbors, and former co-workers of Susan Biancardi, her new trial will unfold in a different light. They, like Audrey, say that nothing short of insanity explains what happened on Valentine’s Day 1990. To them, and to some legal and psychiatric experts, the case is simple: If the public mood has grown so hostile to this defense that even Susan Biancardi cannot be acquitted on grounds of insanity, the plea itself has lost its meaning.

Toting a sign that read, “We love Susan,” a dozen of her friends were in Salem Superior Court last month as she made a bid for freedom during a bail hearing. In her black dress and black pumps, hair neatly coiffed, handcuffs on her wrists, Susan Biancardi was an incongruous figure among the other defendants, mostly suspected drug dealers in jeans and sneakers. As her attorney argued for a reduction of Biancardi’s bail, she gazed at the judge without blinking. But when the prosecutor began describing her actions on the night of the murder, Susan Biancardi squeezed her eyes tightly shut. She did not open them until he had finished.

Susan Biancardi will next face a judge at her second murder trial. This time, her attorney is not expected to dispute the charge that she killed her daughter. Rather, he is expected simply to argue that Biancardi is not guilty by reason of insanity.

The prosecution’s case will not change. “She wasn’t insane,” insists Essex County District Attorney Kevin Burke. “She did not lack criminal responsibility. And the jury so agreed.”

Today, Biancardi is in the state prison in Framingham, while her friends try to raise bail of $50,000, reduced from $100,000 last month. She says she has no memory of the events of February 14, 1990, and has been diagnosed as suffering from psychogenic amnesia, a form of amnesia that blocks out memories too painful to recall.

Philip and Susan Biancardi had been married for two years when they moved to Beverly, in 1972. Their early years on Livingstone Avenue seemed to be happy ones. Then, as now, the North Shore city was a study in contrasts, with its blue-collar neighborhoods near downtown and its posh estates and rolling lawns in Beverly Farms and Prides Crossing near the ocean. The Biancardis moved into a modest, Cape-style house in the Ryal Side section, a solid neighborhood of single- and multi-family homes.  They would go to movies or take in a play at the North Shore Music Theatre. On hot summer nights, the whole family would go out for ice cream. Susan collected dolls, and on weekends she taught Sunday school. Her kindness made her a beloved figure on Livingstone Avenue , a “second mother” to some. Once, Susan organized a back-yard variety show for neighborhood children; she rehearsed the kids, made costumes, provided refreshments.

Every Christmas, Vada Komich, a neighbor, would hear a knock on her door, and there would be Marcia and Audrey, beaming and bearing a gift. The Biancardi girls were strikingly pretty, with shoulder-length brown hair, soft brown eyes, and radiant smiles. “They were very respectful,” Komich says. “Susan gave them a good bringing up.”

As part of that upbringing, there was nothing Susan Biancardi would not do for her daughters. “Susan wanted everything for them,” says one family friend who knew the girls from early childhood. “They liked music, so she bought a piano. She got them dancing lessons. She wanted only the best for her family. They were her whole life.”

Susan grew deeply involved with the Second Congregational Church, where she became friends with another parishioner, Elissa LeClair. “She was a loving, dedicated mother who would have done anything for her children,” says LeClair.

She was also good at her job. At Middleton Town Hall, where Susan Biancardi worked as head clerk in the assessor’s office, she was known for her skill with excise-tax questions. Co-workers dubbed her work area “Susan’s kitchen,” because she brought baked goods for all. From her desk near the door, Susan greeted visitors with a smile and remembered many by name, especially the elderly, whom she went out of her way to help.

A bright spot in the workday for many of Biancardi’s colleagues was when Marcia and Audrey would pop in after a shopping expedition, eager to show their mother their new clothes. When one of the girls enjoyed a success, like making the cheerleading squad, Susan proudly alerted her co-workers.

But there was a nervous edge to Susan’s frequent laughter that hinted of trouble beneath the surface. Tensions had been mounting between Susan and Marcia; as Marcia grew older, she began asserting her independence, staying out later and letting her grades slump.

After Marcia began seeing an older youth of whom her parents disapproved, things got so ugly that, in 1988, Susan Biancardi filed a complaint against the boyfriend, charging him with rape and abuse of a child under 14 and contributing to the delinquency of a minor. The charges were dismissed.

Marcia found ways to keep seeing the young man behind her parents’ back. “She was in love with him,” says Kym Armenta, who was a close friend of Marcia’s, “so she risked a lot for him.” The week before Marcia’s death, she and her mother had clashed over Marcia’s plans for a date with the youth. On February 13, 1990, Susan angrily called the Ipswich academy where Marcia had been taking horseback-riding lessons and told the instructor to sell Marcia’s riding boots and hat, since she was cance ling the lessons.

No matter what transpired at home, Marcia was buoyant at school. She was talkative, cheerful, always ready with an offbeat wisecrack to liven up a meeting of the drama club or chorus. “Marcia was always having fun, laughing . . . but it was very superficial. She was in a lot of pain,” Armenta says. “Instead of revealing herself to everyone she encountered, she would put on a false smile and pretend her problems didn’t exist.”

As the holidays approached in late 1989, maintaining her own facade became harder for Susan Biancardi. In the grip of severe depression — a disorder that first afflicted her when she was pregnant with Marcia in 1974 — she dropped 30 pounds. She was seeing two psychiatrists and taking antidepressant medication. Besides the conflict with Marcia, Susan was in a marriage that friends describe as troubled. About this time, Philip began sleeping in a makeshift bedroom in the attic. And Susan bega n making plans to move into a friend’s house with her daughters.

In 1984, Susan Biancardi had filed for divorce from Philip, citing “cruel and abusive treatment.” She later changed her mind, and the couple reunited. In 1992, several months after Susan was sent to prison, her husband obtained a divorce, citing the marriage’s “irretrievable breakdown.” Philip, who has since remarried, could not be reached for this article. Susan’s friends say that he could be an intimidating, domineering figure. “She was in a dysfunctional marriage,” says one. “And I think she got lost.”

Against this backdrop, friction had been growing between Susan and Marcia Biancardi in the months before the murder. During a trip over the Christmas holiday to visit Philip Biancardi’s brother Michael and his wife, Grace, in West Palm Beach, Florida, it got physical. When Susan told Marcia to stop singing and playing loud music so Audrey could nap, the two began arguing. Then Marcia struck her mother and tried to kick her. Audrey got between them. “My sister is much bigger than my mother, an d my mother would have got hurt,” she said during the trial. Grace Biancardi testified that her sister- in-law was “full of anger during that altercation. . . . She just kept saying: ‘I hate her. I hate her. I can’t stand her.’ ”

In January 1990, mother and daughter clashed again. Audrey wanted to use the phone, but Marcia would not relinquish it. Words were exchanged. Susan slapped Marcia and kicked her out of the house.

As Susan’s family life began spinning out of control, co-workers at Middleton Town Hall noticed that her formerly faultless memory had started slipping. She was often despondent; she started making little errors in record-keeping. “She’d come in all nerved up,” recalls Tom Acciavatti, the Middleton assessor. “She’d say: ‘I’m so tired. I can’t sleep.’ ” Assistant Town Collector Andrea Newhall was one co-worker in whom Susan confided. Newhall is one of many people who now wish they had known how far, how fast, Susan was falling. “If you look back, you say, ‘My God, the signs were there, but we didn’t see them,’ ” says Newhall. “We knew things were bad, but we didn’t know how bad.”