Mark Bruton-Young got away with murder this week. Relying on a postpartum defence, he left the courthouse hand-in hand with his wife Clare, smiling, a free man, despite smothering his 6 month-old daughter to death.
Is male postpartum depression a legitimate illness? Should it be a defence to murder?
A recent report in the Journal of the American Medical Association reviewed 43 studies involving 28,000 men who were followed from the time of their partner’s first trimester to the baby’s first birthday.
Ten percent of the fathers in the studies suffered from depression related to the birth of their child, manifesting symptoms of anger, irritability and feelings of hopelessness.
The researchers discovered that the reasons for male postpartum depression included lack of sleep, a radical change in lifestyle, feeling overwhelmed and unprepared for their new role and the stress of supporting a partner who is also depressed.
In many countries, including Canada, mothers who kill their babies are not charged with murder but with infanticide, which is punishable by up to five years in prison.
Postpartum depression in mothers has a biological basis including the stress of the birthing process and hormonal issues relating to lactation. Obviously these factors do not apply to paternal postpartum.
The death of baby Harriet and the acquittal of her 37 year-old father can only be assessed by examining the circumstances of the case.
Harriet was an only child whose birth was not planned. The Bruton-Young’s had active business, social and recreational schedules.
Police discovered that Mr. Bruton-Young, a successful architect, had googled a variety of incriminating phrases prior to Harriet’s death including “death by suffocation”, “buried alive”, “punched in the stomach”, “poisoned by anti-freeze”, “ingesting feces”, and “signs of crib death”.
As well, a note written by him was found in his home. It read “I want her out of the equation”.
Mr. Bruton-Young testified that his internet searches were done because he was worried about his daughter’s safety and wanted to obtain information to protect her health. He agreed that he became obsessed with the information he obtained, but that he would never deliberately kill his child.
The jury bought it: hook, line and sinker and after 18 hours of deliberation acquitted him of murder.
How sad that Harriet’s life had no value to her father, her mother or the criminal justice system.
There is something terribly wrong with this.
Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang