'Tormented and broken' mum who suffocated son avoids a prison sentence
A "tormented and broken" mother-of-two who killed her youngest son while suffering post-natal depression and fearing she had passed on "bad genes", has been given probation.
Mr Justice Treacy told the weeping 32-year-old woman, who cannot be named for legal reasons: "I consider that justice would not be served by sending you back to prison."
The mother, he said, had been assessed by three consultant psychiatrists and all "were unanimous in the view that at the time of the offence the defendant was suffering from a severe depressive episode with psychotic features following the birth of her second child".
Mr Justice Treacy said the woman had "expressed the deepest remorse and sorrow to her husband and surviving son" .
He added: "She recognised that she had taken everything from her son, his whole future, and considered that this would haunt her for the rest of her life".
In a reference given to the court, a prison chaplain noted that in his opinion, the defendant was "a tormented and broken woman... who has never once forgotten the tragedy that occurred at her hands".
Mr Justice Treacy told her he had "carefully considered all of the expert reports, pre-sentence reports and the details and helpful submissions" from both the prosecution and defence lawyers.
Belfast Crown Court heard that the woman had originally been charged with the murder two years ago of her five-month-old son, but that all medical and legal experts agreed that the appropriate charge was one of infanticide, which she admitted.
She was put on probation for three years,with the condition she complies with all medical, psychiatric, psychological or counselling assessment or treatments. Failure to do so could result in her being re-sentenced.
Earlier this month, prosecution QC Ciaran Murphy told the court that at 7.45am on March 7, 2014, emergency services received a 999 call from a woman saying she had "killed her baby".
Police and paramedics rushed to a home in Belfast, finding the "dazed" mother sitting alone on a sofa. They found her baby in the bedroom in a cot, on his back. The infant was still, with blood around his nose and mouth, and was a "poor colour."
"I just killed my baby, I just suffocated him," the woman told an officer. She later heard saying: "I can't believe what I've done."
The prosecution lawyer said it became clear that not only was the woman unfit for detention, she was also unfit for interview and as such was taken to Knockbracken hospital and admitted under the Mental Health Order. She then spent 13 months in custody on remand, before being released on bail.
When eventually interviewed, the woman - with the help of her solicitor - gave police a written statement about the events.
"I wish that I could hold him and hug him and kiss him," the defendant's statement read. "I miss him so much and my family will never be complete. I am so sorry to my husband and to our other son. I have taken everything away from my son, his whole future. This will haunt me for the rest of my life. I am so sorry about all this."
Medical notes revealed that the woman feared that she had given her son brain damage because she had left her heating on for too long.
She also believed that her eldest child had been affected by the flu jab, and that her youngest had suffered because she had not taken him for the injection.
In addition, after being told her eldest son was probably on the autistic spectrum, she felt she was guilty of "passing bad genes" to both of her children.
In his sentencing remarks, Mr Justice Treacy said that despite a full autopsy "the cause of death remained undetermined", although a brain scan "indicated the infant had suffered severe and irreversible damage" to his brain as a consequence of a lack of oxygen during a period when the heart was not beating. This is known as a hypoxic brain injury.
Defence QC Sean Doran said it was a "very sad case in which a caring young mother was driven to do something unthinkable due to a depressive episode."
He told the court that the child's death led to the break-up of the woman's marriage. She has also not seen her eldest child since last March.