Mom gets 22 years in slaying of son, 6 — (Philadelphia Enquirer)

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The Philadelphia Enquirer

By Darran Simon, INQUIRER STAFF WRITER

Posted: November 03, 2011

Officers gather at the Deptford house where, authorities said, Martina Harding killed her 6-year-old son and then turned a knife on herself.

A woman who had battled depression and tried to take her own life weeks before fatally slashing her son’s throat three days before Christmas Day in 2007, was sentenced today to 22 years in prison.

Martina Harding, 45, had testified that she was suicidal on Dec. 22 when she cut the throat of her son, Jarod, and again tried to commit suicide in the living room of the family’s Deptford home.

In earlier testimony, she agreed with the defense attorney’s assertion that she felt “it would be better off if the children came with you,” that morning, according to court records.

During the attack, Jarod yelled for his sister, Christina, then 9, to wake up and get their father, according to Harding’s husband, Christian. Christina managed to get away and call police.

Christian Harding, who didn’t witness the attack, said he punched his wife to disarm her.

“I prayed for God to let me change places with Jarod,” Christian Harding said today, reading from written statement before Gloucester County Superior Court Judge Walter L. Marshall Jr.

“I didn’t just lose my son that morning,” he said. “I lost everything.”

Harding, 47, said he still cared his wife, who was his high school sweetheart. He has loved her since they were teenagers, he said.

“I hate what she did, but I do not hate her,” he said.

Harding asked the court for justice for Jarod.

“It was my responsibility to protect him. Regardless of whose hand held the knife, I felt that I had failed him miserably.”

Earlier in court, Harding said he hoped that Christina, now 13 and living with adoptive parents, may one day be able to meet her biological mother outside of prison if she wanted to.

Martina Harding initially pleaded not guilty to murder charges by reason of insanity. Her attorneys withdrew the insanity defense and reached a plea deal in September. She pleaded guilty to aggravated manslaughter in return for the 22-year term.

Attorneys also had wanted to spare Christina the agony of testifying at a trial. In an interview outside the courtroom, Christian Harding said he was satisfied with the sentence.

Psychiatric experts for the defense and prosecution reached different opinions on Martina Harding’s mental state.

A psychiatrist from the Ann Klein Foresenic Center in Trenton, where Martina Harding spent several months, found that she was competent, but that she did not know what she was doing on the day of the crime, Marshall said.

Martina Harding had testified that she was thinking clearly when she took her son’s life, despite taking medications for pain and depression, according to authorities.

While her husband struggled with her on Dec. 22, “she kept saying ‘I killed Jarod, let me die,’ ” Christian Harding said in an interview.

The Hardings were struggling financially, and had put off buying Christmas gifts for their children until Christian Harding, an unemployed computer programmer, could find work.

Martina Harding, who worked at a store, was the sole breadwinner. The family had filed for bankruptcy protection a second time, a relative said.

Earlier in December 2007, Harding tried to kill herself by taking pills prescribed for her husband, she testified in September.

She sobbed as she addressed the court today.

“I live with the memory of that day every day of my life,” she said. “I am truly sorry for what I did.”