Poisoned toddler case: a prosperous boy but a family disappointed by the setbacks of the justice system

A mother whose name has been permanently deleted was sentenced in August to serve house arrest after poisoning her toddler. Photo / NZME

It has been more than four months since a North Otago mother who sought attention by poisoning her toddler in hospitals in Dunedin and Auckland – leading to the child’s induced coma and fears of injury possible brain damage – was sentenced to serve a house arrest sentence.

Her son, now 3 years old, remains resilient despite the health problems that began when he was 15 months old. But as the family enters the New Year, the nightmare lingers in some ways, says the child’s grandmother.

“At each step, we kind of said to ourselves, ‘Okay, that’s it – we can just move on,'” she recently told the Weekend Herald, explaining that they had been surprised every step of the way to learn that this was not the case. necessarily the case. “I don’t know what the future holds.

“We just have to try to keep the love and normalcy for the kids and keep them safe, really.”

The accused, whose name has been permanently deleted, along with his young son, appeared before the Auckland High Court in August on charges of being sentenced after pleading guilty to two counts representative of Child Abuse and One Representative Count of Theft of Eye Drops from the Pharmacy at Starship Children’s Hospital.

She first told authorities that she was unsure why she gave her son a toxic concoction of the stolen eye drops and his own antidepressant for 10 days in August 2019, when he was first receiving treatment at Dunedin hospital, then was flown to Starship in Auckland.

Doctors had previously warned the family that the child might not survive what was then a mysterious illness when they detected an alteration in the child’s feeding tube.

The woman later said she did it to draw attention to herself and relieve her of her parenting obligations. Judge Christine Gordon, who ordered the sentence, agreed with a psychological assessment that the woman suffered from a factitious disorder imposed on another person, or FDIA, a mental disorder previously known as Munchausen syndrome by proxy .

The boy’s father, who said he initially supported his wife but left her when he realized she was guilty, expressed his anger and anguish when he made a statement from the victim at sentencing hearing.

“I was betrayed by [her] – even treated as a suspect in previous instances, ”he told the court. “My personal belief is that a light sentence will only allow him to manipulate the system. . . and one day cause more harm. “

Since then, the family has suffered a series of further setbacks, the father and his own mother said.

“Me and the kids are just moving on,” the father told NZME in August, a day after the hearing. “The less we have to do with it, the better.

“The best thing for them would be nothing to do with her. She’s a very cunning person.”

But a few days after the conviction, the ex-husband received a message from the woman suggesting that the toxic concoction had been administered “just to poop him” or “something absolutely ridiculous like that,” the tall woman said. -mother.

“She is kissing like nothing has happened,” she said. “It would be different if we thought she got help and accepted her guilt and showed remorse.”

During the sentencing hearing, defense lawyer Julie-Anne Kincade, QC, argued that her client’s remorse was genuine and that her pain at not being allowed to see her children in because of his own actions was his greatest punishment. Kincade submitted to the court a letter from a family member of the accused, who said the accused often sobbed for hours when she thought no one was watching her and praying for her children.

“This is what she lives with,” Kincade said. “This is what she has to face.”

The child’s father suffered another setback in October, when the court ruled his ex-wife should have her name deleted permanently. Prosecutors had not objected to the deletion, noting that the child already had a permanent name deletion by law. But his father felt it was important to name his ex-wife.

Because his son has a different last name, he is unlikely to be identified and is too young to be aware of these issues anyway, the father told the court, adding that he believed the Her ex’s name removal offer was meant to protect herself – not her son.

Judge Gordon said she understood the father’s point of view that his son was too young for the case to affect him.

“That may be the case now, but I am aware of what the situation will be in the future, especially since [the child] advance into, for example, her early teenage years, ”she said in her decision. “Knowledge among his peers, for example, of what his mother did to him when he was a young child could potentially be deployed against him in a cruel and overwhelming way.”

As the family suffered this setback, they still had hope for another facet of justice: an appeal against the conviction filed in September in which the deputy attorney general intended to argue that the mother should have been sent to prison.

But in November, the appeal was dropped.

A Crown Law spokesperson declined to elaborate on why, but told NZME that new information had come to light as to whether a prison sentence would still be in the “public interest.” The family said they were told it was because the woman was pregnant again and authorities did not want her to have to give birth in prison.

“One week we were told the date of the appeal and the following week we were told the Deputy Solicitor General had rejected it on these grounds,” the boy’s grandmother told the Weekend Herald, adding to his son’s assessment that he was “disgusted” and tired of the setbacks.

“We believe very firmly, unfortunately, that justice is very in favor of the author,” she added. “The victims are going through difficult times. The system has failed us, big time, and the children. “

But it’s not all bad news for the family. The child and his two siblings are doing very well with their father, their grandmother said.

MRI scans taken of the boy’s brain while he was hospitalized showed tissue damage in three areas. So far, however, it seems to be blossoming.

“He’s a loving little boy and he achieves his goals,” said his grandmother. “And he has a lot of boyfriends and he’s loved, happy, and secure. He has an amazing relationship with his dad.”

The boy’s mother, meanwhile, remains focused on dealing with his problems, her lawyer told the Otago Daily Times in November.

At the August sentencing hearing, Judge Gordon received psychiatric reports diagnosing the accused as suffering from major depressive disorder, alcohol abuse disorder, and gambling and exhibiting borderline and antisocial personality traits, as well as the FDIA.

Psychiatric reports also documented the defendant’s own history of childhood separation from a parent, childhood neglect and abuse, disorderly attachment relationships with parents, medically physical symptoms. unexplained symptoms, including fabricated symptoms, mood and personality disorders, self-harm and lying, the judge noted. .

“It is quite obvious that you have a complex psychiatric history,” said the judge, adding that she believed the problems could best be resolved outside the confines of the prison.