The Tragedy of Munchausen By Proxy

GeorgiaLeeLang025Many years ago I acted for a single mom who had an 8-year-old daughter. She retained me when her ex-husband filed an application seeking a change of custody from my client to him…not so unusual, right?

Wrong! This case was my first introduction to the mental illness called “Munchausen by proxy”, an insidious syndrome that experts say causes mothers, rarely fathers, to exaggerate or fake their child’s health problems, or in the worst cases, deliberately harm or cause injury to their child.

The signs and signals that Munchausen may be present include:

• A child who is often hospitalized with unusual and unexplained symptoms that seem to go away when mother is not present, or a child who is moved by her caregiver from doctor to doctor and hospital to hospital.

• Symptoms that don’t match the child’s test results.

• Symptoms that worsen at home but improve while the child is under medical care.

• Drugs or chemicals in the child’s blood or urine.

• Siblings who died under strange circumstances.

• A mother who is overattentive to the child and overly willing to comply with health care workers.

• A mother who is a nurse or who works in the health care field.

Unfortunately, many friends, family, and medical experts who observe such symptoms have difficulty imagining that the child’s mother, who is overly protective, indeed, sacrificial in her care for her child, could intentionally harm her child.

Psychologists explain that the pay-off for the Munchausen mother is the fulfillment of her pathological need for attention and sympathy, something that the growth of social media exploits, with Facebook postings and mommy-blogs.

In a case from White Plains, New York, Lacey Spears, age 29, was charged with the murder. She was accused of poisoning her son, 5-year-old Garnett-Paul Spears with sodium….that’s right, every day table salt.

Garnett-Paul’s sodium levels escalated, confounding his doctors at Westchester Medical Centre who tried desperately to control his brain swelling and seizures, and prevent his eventual death.

Meanwhile his mother used social media to regale her readers with details of Garnett-Paul’s tortuous medical journey, all the while preening and accepting accolades for her unstinting dedication to her sick son.

Ms. Spears was bedside at the hospital with her son, sleeping with him overnight, until he died. Prosecutors allege  she was continually depositing salt in his feeding tube.

Video cameras caught Ms. Spears on two occasions taking her son into a hospital bathroom with a feeding tube. A search of her apartment also turned up two feeding bags contaminated with salt. One of the bags had the equivalent of 69 salt packets.

His death is a terrible tragedy and one that experts say is rare, because Munchausen mothers don’t intend to kill their children, they simply want them to stay sick to feed their uncontrollable need for attention.

She was convicted of second degree murder and sentenced to 20 years in prison.

As for my client, her ex-husband was unable to prove his daughter was a victim of Munchausen by proxy, although the circumstances were admittedly suspicious. I often wondered how that little girl fared and thought about her for years after.

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

No Justice for Murdered Surrey Hockey Mom

DSC00280If you ask a resident of British Columbia what the murder capital of Canada is they may well tell you it’s Surrey. But they’d be wrong. The latest statistics tell us that it is Regina, Saskatchewan, followed by Toronto, Ontario.

However, that is cold comfort for victims of violent crimes across Canada, and in particular the family of Julie Paskall, the 53-year old Surrey mother who was attacked while waiting in the Newton arena parking lot to pick up her 16-year old son who was refereeing a hockey game.

Her son left the arena expecting to see his mom waiting for him as she regularly did, but instead he saw her on the ground surrounded by blood and scrambling paramedics. She had been brutally beaten and was rushed to hospital where she died two days later, on December 31, 2013.

Ms. Paskall’s murder shocked the neighbourhood and surrounding communities, who had become complacent with the ever-increasing toll of gangland slayings. But this was entirely different. This was a loving mother of three children, happily married to her high school sweetheart, and well-known in the community for her volunteerism.

A public memorial was packed with friends, neighbours and strangers. Her husband remarked that the outpouring of grief and sympathy was overwhelming, with cards and condolences coming from all over Canada and as far afield as Hong Kong and Sweden.

Mayor Diane Watts reminded the community their anger was understandable but that justice would prevail.

Unfortunately, Ms. Watts was wrong on that score. Last week Yosef Gopaul pled guilty to manslaughter and was sentenced to 12 years in prison for Ms. Paskall’s death and a second robbery that took place two weeks before he attacked Ms. Paskall with a rock the size of a grapefruit. His DNA was on the rock and he confessed to an undercover police officer.

He said he only wanted to steal her purse and couldn’t believe he had caused her death. Gopaul had only been in B.C. for eight weeks prior to the murder, coming from Ontario.

While Gopaul attempted to say all the right things at his sentencing hearing his words rang hollow. The Crown informed the Court that at age 28 he had rung up 29 convictions, including six for violent offences, and although charged with second degree murder, a “deal with the devil” saw him escape with only a manslaughter conviction. With time served his sentence will be ten years, and he will likely only serve a portion of that before work release and parole.

In my view the sentence is unfit and an insult to the Paskall family and the community of Surrey who were told and expected that justice would prevail. I suspect it is easier (and cheaper) for the Crown to offer a plea deal than to run a challenging second degree murder trial. Even with DNA and a confession, the Crown refused to roll the dice which I suspect was because Ms. Paskall died from a pre-existing cardiac condition that took her life when she was beaten by this habitual criminal.

Perhaps if the Crown and the Courts had taken Mr. Gopaul’s previous serial criminality more seriously, he would have been locked up after his sixth violent offence. As it is, he will be free sooner that you think, making the Paskall murder beyond a tragedy.

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

Why George Zimmerman Was Acquitted

DSC00280Isn’t it slightly odd that while hundreds of young black men have been killed in Chicago this year with barely a headline, America has been transfixed by the death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, who was shot in a Sanford, Florida townhouse complex by 29-year old neighbourhood watch volunteer, George Zimmerman, acting in self-defence, according to a jury of his peers.

A race narrative was quickly ensconced, in no small way as a result of President Barack Obama’s gratuitous, race-baiting comment that if he had a son, he would probably look like Trayvon. Yes, I recall the photo of an innocent looking young black boy: only later was it revealed that the picture splashed across the media was of Trayvon when he was years younger, looking nothing like the sullen, troubled 6’ lad that he had become.

Trayvon was visiting his father on the night he died, having been suspended from his high school for ten days for being caught with a plastic bag lined with marijuana residue. Hardly a reason to brand him as a ne’er-do-well, but toxicology tests done after his death showed his system contained marijuana of sufficient quantity to affect his behavior.

Initially Mr. Zimmerman faced no criminal charges, but 44 days after the tragic events of February 26, 2012, a special prosecutor was appointed, undoubtedly in reaction to street protests and Change.org’s Petition, signed by 2.2 million persons urging the arrest of Mr. Zimmerman. Not unexpectedly, the usual black celebrities joined in, including Russell Simmons and the Reverends: Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson.

In an illustration of amazingly swift justice, the Zimmerman trial began and concluded in a mere five weeks, and within 18 months of that terrible night, an example that ought to be studied by Canadian prosecutors and justice officials.

For those outraged by George Zimmerman’s acquittal, consider how the prosecution botched their case.

Their “star” witness was Trayvon Martin’s female friend, Rachel Jeantel, who testified that she was on the telephone with Trayvon just before he was killed. She tearfully recounted how the last words she heard Trayvon speak were “Get off, get off ”. Damning? Hardly, because it was the first time she mentioned these words, despite numerous previous interviews and a letter that she wrote at the request of Trayvon’ s parents, describing her last conversation with him.

When she was asked by Zimmerman’s defence counsel to read the letter, she could not, she was illiterate and in fact, a friend had written the letter for her. She was also proven to be a liar, even though her lies were inconsequential to the legal issues before the court.

But the testimony that really sewered the State’s case was from their witness, John Good. He was the only neighbor who heard noise and came outside. A better witness for the defence you could not have found…yes, the defence. He was clean-cut, well-dressed, articulate and calm as he described seeing Trayvon Martin on top of George Zimmerman “pounding” him with mixed martial arts moves.

The prosecution tried to show that Zimmerman was himself trained in the violent sport. Adam Pollock the owner of the gym where Zimmerman worked out said that out of 10, Zimmerman was a one as far as physicality and a 1.5 in his ability to fight. He testified that Zimmerman had a lot of weight to lose when he began attending the gym.

In a commercially crass sidebar, Mr. Pollock’s gym is now offering the “Zimmerman Program”.

There was considerable evidence on whether it was Martin or Zimmerman who cried out for help, with Trayvon’ s parents saying they recognized their son’s voice, while Zimmerman’s family said it was George’s voice.

The prosecutors sought to have the evidence of a voice recognition expert testify that it was Trayvon Martin’s voice; however, the evidence was ruled inadmissible, as the so-called expert was actually the inventor of the software program that he, of course, believed was valid and reliable.

Judge Debra Nelson ruled the science was speculative and the fact that the State’s expert was actively marketing the program and had a significant financial interest was its death knell.

Judge Nelson also disallowed evidence sought to be admitted by the defence team. She ruled that Martin’s profane twitter messages, cell phone photos of him with drugs and holding a gun, his school suspension and his propensity for fighting were either irrelevant or prejudicial.

The jury did their job, a disappointment for the prosecution, who at the last-minute asked the judge to give the jury instructions on manslaughter. They clearly realized their fantasy of a second-degree murder conviction was a bust, but that’s what happens when crowd mentality is the basis for a criminal charge.

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

Baby in Dumpster May Result in New Law

In a shocking case of murder and attempted murder involving three newborn babies, Calgary’s Meredith Borowiec, age 30, has been arrested in the deaths of her two children, born in 2008 and 2009, neither of whom apparently lived longer than a few hours.

Curiously, the murders only came to light during a police investigation after Ms. Borowiec’s third baby was heard crying in a dumpster in Calgary in October 2010. This child was rescued and is healthy and thriving despite the cruel circumstances she endured.

In the wake of these charges, the Alberta government is considering implementing an “Angel’s Cradle” policy designed to assist pregnant mothers overwhelmed by their circumstances.

Some states and countries call this policy “Baby Moses Law”, borrowing from the Old Testament book of Exodus where the daughter of Egypt’s King Pharaoh bathed in the Nile River, only to discover a basket made of bulrushes that cradled a beautiful Jewish baby boy.

The baby’s unknown mother chose to give up her baby rather than suffer the inhumanity of Pharaoh’s edict to murder all Jewish baby boys. The baby, named Moses, which means ” drawn out of the water”, was taken in by the Princess and was raised in the royal household.

This is the model for today’s laws that allow mothers to drop their baby off at a hospital, police station, church or other secure place, anonymously and with no fear of criminal repercussions.

Baby Moses Law, also called Safe Haven Law, is on the books of fifty American states and other countries throughout the world. Canada has no Safe Haven laws and is lagging behind other countries that have responded legislatively, including the Islamic Republic of Sudan.

In April of 2010, doctors at St. Paul’s Hospital in Vancouver took matters into their own hands and started a program called Angel’s Cradle. They received the Vancouver Police Department’s assurance that mothers using the service would not be prosecuted.

It sounds like a perfect solution for situations where mothers may abort; simply abandon their children in remote locations; or in desperation, kill them.

While providing a necessary social safety net there are those
who criticize Safe Haven laws and cite examples of abuse to support their position. Concerns include the fear that mothers will use the law to rid themselves of a child, to the detriment of the biological father who may well wish to raise the child.

Nebraska’s law, enacted in July 2008, originally allowed for “drop-offs” of children up to the age of eighteen years old. In the first four months, 35 children, mostly pre-teens, were deserted in Nebraska, arriving from other states such as Florida and Delaware.

Realizing how misconceived their original legislation was, the law was amended in November 2008 so that it only applied to babies thirty days or younger.

As for Meredith Borowiec, authorities in Calgary have acknowledged that their second-degree murder case against her will be challenging because the bodies of the murdered babies have never been found.

We will undoubtedly hear a defence that suggests post-partum reactions after her children were born. However, medical research suggests that post-partum hormonal issues do not arise until some time after the delivery of a child.

It is sad when human life is treated as trash to be thrown out. We need justice for the innocent in Canada and we need it now.