Mother who smothered daughter suffering ‘depressive disorder’, court told

Woman pleads not guilty by reason of insanity to murder of three-year-old girl

In her Garda interviews the woman said she felt ‘desperate’, ‘overwhelmed’. File photograph: Matt Kavanagh

In her Garda interviews the woman said she felt ‘desperate’, ‘overwhelmed’. File photograph: Matt Kavanagh

 

A mother suffocated her three-year-old daughter with a “Minnie Mouse” pillow while she was taking an afternoon nap after becoming “obsessed” with the child’s autism diagnosis, a jury has heard.

The Central Criminal Court trial also heard that the woman described to gardaí how she held the pillow over the child’s face as she struggled and screamed. Her daughter called out for her daddy and finally let out a sigh, she said.

A consultant forensic psychiatrist told the murder trial that the defendant was suffering with “recurrent depressive disorder” at the time and fulfils the criteria for a special verdict of not guilty by reason of insanity.

In the days prior to the killing the defendant had carried out internet searches on suicide and mothers killing their autistic children. She had convinced herself her child had a more severe form of autism when the diagnosis was at the milder end of the spectrum.

The woman, who cannot be named by order of the court, has gone on trial having pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity to the murder of the three-year-old girl nearly two years ago.

Garda Declan Hartley agreed with prosecuting counsel Paul Murray SC that the girl was assessed for autism in a child-development centre in January 2018.

The therapist in the centre said the child scored at the borderline spectrum of autism.

Mr Murray read a statement from the woman’s husband to the court in which he said his wife had been googling autism and found a form of it called Pathological Demand Avoidance. “She immediately convinced herself that was what the child had,” said her husband.He added that the therapist had said their daughter was on the spectrum. “She had not completed her assessment, but at the very worse she had mild autism.”

The husband said he never blamed his wife for what happened to their child as he knew it had to be a psychiatric event .

The woman’s sister said in a statement that the accused became obsessed with autism and was “always” on the internet researching it.

‘Living nightmare’

In her Garda interviews, the defendant described the weeks before the killing as a “living nightmare” and said she felt “desperate”, “overwhelmed”, “in a panic” and “totally alone” after her child was found to be on the threshold with autism.

The court heard the woman say she intended her daughter to die.She had thought about going to the beach and drowning herself. The accused told gardaí she felt she did not have a choice but to complete the act in order for her other child to have a happy life.

“I wasn’t in the best place, I did love her very much. I just wanted the best for her and to be as happy as possible,” she told gardaí. Asked if she had something to say to her child, she replied: “I would say I’m so so sorry.”

In cross-examination, Garda Hartley agreed with defence counsel Patrick Gageby SC that the woman was a very good mother to her children and put them first.

Dr Sally Linehan, a consultant psychiatrist from the Central Mental Hospital, said the woman suffers from a “recurrent depressive disorder” which is a mental disorder and it had an element of psychosis at the time.

The woman’s mental health deteriorated when her child’s autism was diagnosed and she developed a conviction that she must kill her, said the witness. The woman did not know what she was doing was wrong and was unable to refrain from committing the act, she continued, adding that she was satisfied that the accused fulfils the criteria of not guilty by reason of insanity.

The trial continues on Wednesday.