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April 15, 2011

"Mother sentenced to 8-10 years for withholding cancer meds from son"

The title of this post is the headline of this articlereporting on the sentencing outcome in a fascinating and high-profile filicide case out of Massachusetts.  Here are the details:

Kristen LaBrie, the mother who withheld cancer medications from her young autistic son who later died of his illness, was sentenced today to eight to 10 years in state prison for her conviction of attempted murder.

"At the end of the day, Ms. LaBrie’s actions were extended, secretive, and calculated. They were acts that really do chill one’s soul. This type of conduct really does demand punishment, albeit tempered with mercy," Essex Superior Court Judge Richard Welch said as he sentenced LaBrie.  A prosecutor had recommended that LaBrie serve 16 to 17 years in prison, while her defense attorney recommended one year, with a lengthy probation period.

A tearful LaBrie apologized at the sentencing hearing this morning for withholding the medicine from her son Jeremy Fraser.  “I am remorseful for my actions and I wish I could have done things differently,” LaBrie told the court.  "If I could do it differently, I would because I certainly miss my son every day.”...

LaBrie, 38, who lived in Beverly and Salem, was convicted Tuesday on charges of attempted murder, assault and battery on a disabled person with injury, assault and battery on a child with substantial injury, and reckless endangerment of a child.  Welch also sentenced her to five years of probation.

Authorities say her son was diagnosed with a treatable case of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma in October 2006, just after he turned 7, but Labrie failed to administer chemotherapy.  By the time his doctors realized the boy was not taking his medication, his condition had progressed to leukemia.  The boy was placed in the custody of his father, then died in a hospice in March 2009 at the age of 9.

"This was a tragic and difficult case," Essex District Attorney Jonathan W. Blodgett said in a statement.  "For the Commonwealth this prosecution was always about justice for Jeremy."  The defense had argued that LaBrie was overwhelmed by the pressures of caring for an ailing autistic son.  "Her judgment waned, her objectivity waned, and she made an awful, awful mistake," said defense attorney Kevin James....

Welch said he felt sympathy for LaBrie, noting there was “little doubt that Ms. Labrie was placed in an extremely trying and exhausting situation” and he was certain that sometimes LaBrie felt that she was “confronting these monumental burdens all alone.”  But he said, “What the defendant was charged with and what she was found guilty of and what she did commit was the crime of attempted murder.  As difficult as it is for us to understand, she had the specific intent to kill her young son and intentionally withheld potentially lifesaving medication from him in order to accomplish her goal of murder.”

And he said that it was in society’s interest to protect the vulnerable.  “In the last analysis, our society is judged on how we protect the most vulnerable members of that society, the children, the disabled.  Jeremy Fraser being a child with moderately severe autism was one of society’s weakest and most beleaguered members.  Society has a most significant interest in using the criminal justice system to discourage and prevent substantial injury to such disabled children,” he said.

Interestingly, the state sentencing judge here produced a brief sentencing memorandum, which can be accessed here.

April 15, 2011 at 03:20 PM | Permalink

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Comments

The forthcoming torrent of defense-type excuses for this one ought to be a real doozy.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Apr 15, 2011 3:37:36 PM

Bill: I strongly morally condemn what she did. Under 123D, she would likely go home, with some acts of atonement enforced by the court.

Safety is the first and last job of government. How does her going to prison make us safer? It makes us poorer, but not likely safer. I do not see how withholding treatment is assault and battery, and attempted murder. Is there a duty to rescue for this class of victim?

One thing about this autistic child, and why the law has come down so hard. Had he survived, he would have generated $millions in cost to the taxpayer, with zero return. So, her biggest sin? Not protecting future government jobs.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Apr 15, 2011 11:26:03 PM

Before I "unleash my torrent of defense-type excuses" (Remember ladies and gentlemen of the jury the prosecutor's use of the term "excuses" is a euphemism for reasonable doubt"), I wonder if the D is a "stupid idiot" (to borrow a partial phrase from my favortite posecutor Ren Hoek) or does she believe in eugenics? In any event, the withholding of care is abhorrent.

Posted by: ? & the mysterions | Apr 15, 2011 11:37:34 PM

mysterions --

"Before I 'unleash my torrent of defense-type excuses'..."

No, please, don't hesitate. I can't wait to hear how she had brain lesions, tri-polar disorder, fatigued Mom syndrome, too many twinkies, etc. Let 'er rip!

"...the prosecutor's use of the term 'excuses' is a euphemism for reasonable doubt')"...

Defense counsel's use of the term "mistake" is a euphemism for the client's mind bending cruelty and selfishness.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Apr 16, 2011 7:46:06 AM

SC --

"Safety is the first and last job of government. How does her going to prison make us safer?"

Not so, SC. Punishment, and not just incapacitation (and the safety that comes with incapacitation), is almost universally recognized as a job of the criminal justice system. And, if a point be made of it, we are likely to get to the "D" in your 123D system a great deal more quickly if the actor discovers that the 1-2-3 part comes with little or no punishment.

Better for all concerned that the actor find out right with "1" that criminal behavior has significantly unpleasant consequences. That way, he/she is less likely to be eager to get to 23D, which is a good thing for him/her and, more importantly, everybody else.

"Is there a duty to rescue for this class of victim?"

Yes. The boy might well have been an economic "drain," as you note. But he was still a human being.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Apr 16, 2011 7:58:44 AM

Bill: Whenever I am outraged by a verdict or sentence, I have learned to wait for more facts. As the facts accumulate, I almost always end up agreeing with the jury, or at least understanding their decision. There may be a lot more than what is in the article. The press sensationalizes, by choice of what to include. So we get battery by withholding treatment. Makes no sense. That is usually called, neglect. However, if there was active physical abuse and other deprivation, then battery by withholding treatment is more understandable. So shutting off someone's respirator is not neglect. It is battery and attempted murder. Need more facts.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Apr 16, 2011 10:03:00 AM

i'm going to have to give you this round Bill. You hit it right on the head!

"SC --

"Safety is the first and last job of government. How does her going to prison make us safer?"

Not so, SC. Punishment, and not just incapacitation (and the safety that comes with incapacitation), is almost universally recognized as a job of the criminal justice system. And, if a point be made of it, we are likely to get to the "D" in your 123D system a great deal more quickly if the actor discovers that the 1-2-3 part comes with little or no punishment.

Better for all concerned that the actor find out right with "1" that criminal behavior has significantly unpleasant consequences. That way, he/she is less likely to be eager to get to 23D, which is a good thing for him/her and, more importantly, everybody else.

"Is there a duty to rescue for this class of victim?"

Yes. The boy might well have been an economic "drain," as you note. But he was still a human being."

If she felt there was no way she could no longer care from him i'm sure there were alternatives. If nothing else turn the child over to the govt.

Posted by: rodsmith | Apr 16, 2011 3:55:08 PM

C'mon guys. Where are all the many usual defense-type commenters and their demands for compassion?

Peter: Wouldn't you say this poor lady's human rights were trampled? Why hasn't the World Court chimed in? Isn't this just another example of barbaric USA "justice?"

John K -- I've missed your condemnation of the scheming prosecutors and how they seized on the least little thing to slam the woebegotten mother (well, ex-mother) now that she's down.

anon -- The defendant was, you know, doing her best. Not to mention that the kid must have been a real drag. Don't you think the Neanderthals who support such a draconian sentence should be banned from this blog? I mean, it's always same thing, same thing, blah, blah, blah. Look, some kids just develop leukemia. What's the big deal?

Righto.

In what liberals regard as "sympathetic" cases, I see no end of demands for compassion. But compassion is a way of viewing the world that can't be turned on and off depending on how good (or bad) the PR is for a given case.

So, please, step right on up to the plate! Yes, what we have here, to quote the story, is a boy who was "placed in the custody of his father, then died in a hospice in March 2009 at the age of 9."

A NINE YEAR-OLD IN A HOSPICE. Because the wonderful defendant, his mother, withheld the medication that could have saved him.

It makes your head spin.

Maybe I shouldn't blame you for running away from this one, no matter how thoroughly unbecoming it is to run away.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Apr 17, 2011 6:42:40 AM

Not having any personal experience administering chemo therapy to a child with "moderately severe" (whatever that means) autism, I can't judge this woman.

However, I do know that even good people can be overwhelmed by circumstances to the point they succumb to human frailty. I also know prosecutors make their living demonizing human frailty.

So maybe her actions were "extended, secretive, calculated" and "wanton" as prosecutors and the judge asserted; Maybe they embodied "mind-bending cruelty and selfishness" as Bill suggested. Then again, maybe she was exhausted and depressed and simply gave up.

Stories like this make me wonder how a wise king (with no need or inclination to play to the wild-eyed torch and pitchfork, child-idolatry, "culture of life," vengeful-retributionist cheap seats) might have disposed of the matter. Somehow I doubt it would have ended with an 10-year stretch in the dungeon.

Must say, though, it was nice to hear the judge utter such kind, sympathetic, humane words...before sending her off to prison.

Happy now, Bill?

Posted by: John K | Apr 17, 2011 11:14:54 AM

John K --

I'm happy that you stepped up to the plate and didn't hide out, as your most frequent allies continue to do in the face of this woman's nauseating crime.

The problem is that you see EVERYTHING as mere "human frailty" and nothing as malevolence, greed, selfishness or cruelty.

When you're a parent of a child of this age, you do not have the option of saying, "Gee, this is too tough." Nor is it an aspect of "child-idolatry" to expect this mother to do the minimum -- not to idolize this boy, but just to keep him alive.

You have often decried the lack of humanity in criminal law. What kind of law is it -- indeed, what kind of society is it -- that sees parents sentence their young children to a lingering death and then says, well, golly, you can't just judge people.

It's a society that sees evil and yawns through it.

Rodsmith made a good observation: "If she felt there was no way she could no longer care from him i'm sure there were alternatives. If nothing else turn the child over to the govt." Or a church, or hospital, or his father (who got custody after it was already too late).

There is a reason your fellow defense-oriented types are hiding out. They know that this one is beyond excuse, so they figure the smart move is to just wait it out and, after enough time has passed, start up again with the Innocence Poster Boy of the Day.

I appreciate your willingness to engage, and your understanding of the value of argument. But you're on the wrong side, as your allies' determined silence implicitly admits.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Apr 17, 2011 6:38:15 PM

LOL i forgot all about the hospital bill. Wasn't it last year that one state had to basically rewrite it's no-fault abandoned child law becasue parent...out of state parents at that who were dropping off 16-17 year old kids!

Posted by: rodsmith | Apr 18, 2011 2:08:40 PM

I'm not sure judges should feel sympathy. Isn't justice suppose to be fair but impartial. Is it possible to feel sympathy and remain impartial. Recognizing the facts, including the defendant's facts, and utilizing them in fashioning an appropriate sentence doesn't equate to sympathy, in my mind.

I'm sympathetic to my friend who is dying of cancer right now. I can rationalize that sometimes people get overwhelmed by situations and make bad choices. But I don't sympathize with this woman.

By the same token, punishment isn't suppose to be vengeful or dispensed with glee. When appropriate, it should be harsh and absolute. But I would consider it a poor judge who enjoyed inflicting punishment.

That's just my philosophical view.

Posted by: Bill B. | Apr 19, 2011 5:39:45 PM

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