Mother killed autistic son “to get rest” (Forensic Psychology)


Mother killed autistic son “to get rest”, court hears

Source: The Forensic Psychology Article – The Telegraph, 10 May 2011. 

Summary of the article.

This article published in the Telegraph dated 10th May 2011 describes the death by strangling of a 11 year old autistic boy by his mother in the Sky Plaza hotel in Rhoose, Cardiff. The article states that after strangling the son, the Mother unsuccessfully tried to take her own life by slashing her wrist, arms, shoulder, chest and feet. It appears from the article that the main motive behind the killing was to relieve the child and herself from the stresses of day to day life. The mother attributed a number of reasons to justify her actions. The pressure and stresses arising from a breaking marriage and its impact on her four children had led her to live in hotels for almost a month preceding the incident. She informed the officers who arrived at the scene about her son autism and how her actions would free him of his problems by taking him in higher place. She gives a number of others reasons to support and justify the positive reasons of killing her son.  Furthermore according to article she treat the killing as one of the solution to free her son form autism as in haven all man will equal and free of illness such autisms.

In spite of her justifications, it appears that she is indeed aware of the wrongfulness of her actions. This becomes evident in one of her statements where she acknowledges that she may not have been able to join her son in heaven as God may not forgiver her for her actions. This can indicates an aware of the immorality of her actions. However she goes on to add that her parents or the son’s grand parents would never the less be available to look after her son in the after life.

From her actions, it appears that she has thought about the implications and impact of her actions on her immediate family. This can indicate that she is aware of her responsibility towards the emotional well being of her other sons. She left a number of suicide notes for her children. This may indicate that tried to help make her children make sense of the situation. One of the suicide notes was addressed to her 14 year old son where she wished his him good luck in his future and tries to make him understand that her suicide should not be necessarily seen as negative. She tries to make him understand that the situation is actually good for her as it puts her to rest. She even try to highlights the fact that her autistic son was involved in making the decisions as she claimed to have asked him numerous times if he wanted to be with his father or his special needs school but that on all the occasions the son pointed at her instead.

Contrary to her justifications, the prosecutor tries to present that the autistic boy could have had a normal life expectancy and that he could walk, run, play all those he could not talk. In spite of this, the prosecutor acknowledges that she was indeed a responsible parent and was devoted towards the long time care of her children. The prosecutor added that the child needed full-time adult care and supervision. He needed help to dress, wash, brush his teeth and eat. These were duties which the mother seems to have fulfilled with devotion and love.

The mother denies murder but has admitted to manslaughter. The trial continues.

A detailed examination of the topic

A recent report of FBI files reported that the murder of a child is the a type of crime which enters terror, anxiety and apprehension in our population. The problem of mother filicide exceeds the borders of our society and challenges existing social norms. According to FBI files, from 1987 children homicides in the UK domestic setting cover 2398 deaths where 28% are less than ten years old. According the De Young notes (1982) ”the offender sees the child victims as representations of all his problems and everything he hates about himself as well the dreaded memory of his own childhood”. As we see in the article above in the case of the mother killing the autistic child, the mother believes that by killing her child she will free the child from the pain of autism.

The psychology handbook defines murder as killing of human being by another human being. According to Brookman (2005), manslaughter is hard to establish because of the thin line between the various definitions of murder. Classification of this description implies that murder can be perceived as accidental and un-intended death or the occurrence of an episode which can be distinguished as murder. According to Black (1990), murder is defined as malice which describes the “ill will” to harm someone else.  “Malice afterthought” which is the intention to kill differentiates the murder from unlawful killing (malice coming from the Latin “bad”). According to Hillbrand (2001), murder is a “single-incident offence” which mostly involves one victim and the predator does not commit another murder even after serving the prison sentence. According to data from the department of Justice in the United States, killing of children by parents tends to occur more in children under the age of 5 years old. In the past of 25 years, of all the children under age 5 years who were murdered in the United States, 61 per cent were killed by parents, 30% of the children were killed by their mothers, and 31% by their fathers. Moreover the valuation of the record of the centre for disease control and prevention for 1994 suggests that homicide was the third direct basis of death between children from ages 5–14 years.

In the article discussed above, the mother attributed a number of reasons to justify her actions of killing her son. This can be seen as the process of neutralisation. Gresham Sykes and David Matza’s neutralization theory explains how a person who commits a crime may try to justify their behavior by providing alternative definitions and explanations of their actions . This is seen throughout the article where the mother gives a number of justifications for her actions.

According to Finkelhor and Ormrod (2001), homicide of young children are 71% predominantly by family members and usually by “personal weapon” (use of hand or feet, strangle or suffocation). Furthermore, Finkelhor and Ormrod (2001) uncover no difference between the number of murders between girls and boys. However children younger than one year old possess a greater risk of homicide. Those age categorisation of the offspring are mostly killed by family relatives who believe that they are not able and capable of raising a child or simply don’t want a child. According to the U.S. Advisory Board on Child Abuse and Neglect (1998), the most common reason for the parent to kill their child is the attention requirement and constant need to be the centre of their interest.

A number of researches and studies conducted in the past can help provide a better insight into the case discussed in the article where the mother kills her child and later unsuccessfully tries to take her own life. As Fox and Zawitz (2001) point out, the death of the child is more frequent is the family setting where parents are in the middle of a divorce or where a father abuses his child. This finding is supported by the case discussed in this article where the mother is going through a divorce and has been forced to live in hotels for almost a month before killing.

According to Resnick’s (1969) psychiatric study, mothers who kill their children experience recurrent psychoses and are in need of mental treatment as they suffer from depression and suicidal thoughts. Furthermore Resnick’s (1969) distinguishes the reason and motive of the mother who is responsible for killing her own child. One of the killing motivations is “altruistic killing” where mother believes that she is killing the child out of love. Mother is convinced that murder of her child is of the greatest importance and is the best thing for her child. This finding is supported by the article discussed above where the mother tries to justify the killing of her child by stating that she did not want the child to suffer the from the day to stresses of life as an autistic child. In the article, the mother offers numerous justifications to support why killing her child was best for the child. She indeed believed that by killing the child she would free the child from terrible and horrific life experiences and that his death is the best solution for him.

Maternal filicide-suicide

In conjunction with mother’s motive to kill her child, there are many different reasons for the parent to commit the murder. According to Oberman’s (1996) study, mother’s socioeconomic background was usually poor and they had experienced social isolation. However the need of the child was the major focus in mother’s life. Alder and Baker suggest that some of the mothers were victims of domestic violence and had experienced problems in relationship with they partner. The above findings together with the findings of Silverman and Kennedy (1988) are consistent with the case discussed in the article where there is a constant focus on the problems faced by the autistic child. Overcoming the difficulties experienced by the child and the help he needed as an autistic child are some of the triggers for the murder.

There are numerous studies that show the relationship between the murder of a child and ensuing suicide attempt by the mother. This is consistent with the article where the mother tried to kill herself after taking the life of her child. According to Wallace and Sydney (1986), a number of mothers who kill their children were suicidal, depressed and experience psychosis. Nock and Marzuk (1999) also found that 16-29 per cent of mothers who kill their child concluded their crime by suicide.  On the other hand, Appleby (1996) found that five per cent of suicidal mothers of young children kill one of their children. These findings are consistent with the article where the mother tries to commit suicide after the murder of her child.

On another note, Daly and Wilson (1998) found that suicidal mothers who kill their child more often kill older children (mean age of murdered children was six years old) as opposed to infants. The recent study of Friedman Hrouda and Holden (2005) found that the mothers indicated symptoms of depression and psychosis. Alongside they reported many cases where mothers who kill their children take their own life after killing her children.

Abusive parent

In the study about violent parents and non abusive parents, Frude (1991) found characteristics of prototype behaviour that emerged from frequent exertion and difficulty in raising children. He pointed out that those parents have little acceptance and tolerance to their child’s behaviour and have problems to control their anger. Parents are mostly depressed with low self-esteem and lack in empathy. In addition, Wolfe (1987) implies that abusive parents have pessimistic and damaging perceptions of their children and also may have improbable and unreasonable outlook on their children’s life. Such parents may believe that the children are intentionally being hard and challenging but the truth is that their unrealistic expectation of their children’s life is what makes them unsuccessful. Marauder pathology becomes likely the main factor in child abuse where predator behaviour interacts with difficult child behaviour and results in tragedy. According to viewpoint of Sedlak (1991), the focal point of child abuse can be the social context in which the child has poor family background, social difficulty and social isolations. Violent parent can come from abusive family where the parent could have had an abusive childhood and learnt throughout his life that violence is the right method to raise their child.  These parent child interaction problems can be solved with the right assistance and help. As we see in the article above, lack of proper help and support available to the mother and the autistic child is likely to have led to violence and abuse and this case even death.

Reference:

1)    Alder, C. M. & Baker J. (1997). Maternal filicide: more than one story to be told. Women and Criminal Justice, 9, 15–39.

2)    Alder, C.,& Polk, K. (2001). Child victims of homicide. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

3)    Appleby, L. (1996). Suicidal behaviour in childbearing women. Int Rev Psychiatry, 8,107–115.

4)    Black, H. C. (1990) Black law dictionary. St. Paul, MN: West.

5)    Bourget, D., & Bradford, J. M. (1990). Homicidal parents. Can J Psychiatry, 35, 233–238.

6)    Brookman, F. (2005). Understanding Homicide. Portland, OR: Sage.

7)    Child Abuse Prevention Centre. (1998). Shaken baby syndrome fatalities in the United States. Ogden, UT: Author.

8)    Daly, M. & Wilson, M. (1988) Killing children: parental homicide in the modern west. In: Daly M, Wilson M, (Ed) Homicide. New York: Aldine de Gruyter, pp. 61–93.

9)    De Young, M.(1982). The sexual victimisation of children. Jefferson: McFarland.

10) Finkelhor, D. & Ormrod, R. (2001). Homicides of children and youth. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Juvenile and Delinquency Preventions.

11) Fox, J. A., & Zawitz, M. A.(2001). Homicide trends in the United States. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics.

12) Friedman, S. H. Hrouda, D. R. & Holden, C.E. (2005). Filicide-suicide: common factors among parents who kill their children and themselves. J Am Acad Psychiatry Law,33,496–504.

13) Frude, N. (1991). Child abuse. In Howells, K. & Hollin, C. (Ed). Clinical Approaches to Violence. Chichester: John Wiley.

14) Hillbrand, M. (2001). Homicide- suicide and other form of co-occurring aggression against self and against others. Professional Psychology: Research and Practice, 32,625-635.

15) Karakus, M. Ince, H. & Ince, N. (2003). Filicide cases in Turkey, 1995- 2000. Croat Med J,44:592–595.

16) Meyer, C. L., & Oberman, M. (2001). Mothers who kill their children: understanding the acts of moms from Susan Smith to the “Prom Mom”. New York: New York University Press

17) Nock, M. K., & Marzuk, P. M. (1999). Murder-suicide: phenomenology and clinical implications. In: Jacobs, D. G. (Ed). Guide to suicide assessment and intervention. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, pp. 188–209.

18) Oberman, M. (1996). Mothers who kill: coming to terms with modern American infanticide. American Criminal Law Review, 34, 2–109.

19) Resnick, P.J. (1969). Child murder by parents: a psychiatric review of filicide. Am J Psychiatry, 126, 73–82.

20) Rouge-Maillart, N. & Jousset, N. (2005). Women who kill their children. Am J Forensic Med Pathol, 26, 320–326.

21) Sedlak, A.J. (1991). National Incidence and Prevalence of Child Abuse and Neglect: 1998. Rockville: Westat.

22) Silverman, R. A., & Kennedy, L.W. (1988). Women who kill their children. Violence Vict, 3,113–127.

23) Somander, L.K., & Rammer, L. M. (1991). Intra- and extra-familial child homicide in Sweden 1971-1980. Child Abuse Negl,15, 45–55.

24) Vanamo, T., Kauppo, A.,&  Karkola, K. (2001). Intra-familial child homicide in Finland 1970-1994: incidence, causes of death and demographic characteristics. Forensic Sci Int, 117, 199–204.

25) Wallace, A. (1986). Homicide: the social reality. New South Wales Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research. Sydney.

26) Wolfe, D. A. (1987). Child Abuse: Implication for Child Development and Psychopathology. Newbury Park: Sage.

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