Jury Clears Father In Daughter's Suffocation Death
By Dave Reynolds, Inclusion Daily Express
November 22, 2004
NELSON, NEW ZEALAND--After just 43 minutes of deliberation, a jury on Thursday found a man not guilty of murder and not guilty of manslaughter in the apparent suffocation death of his infant daughter -- in spite of his admissions that he killed her.
The man was discovered by police while hiding in the bushes shortly after midnight on May 15. He was clutching the body of the five-month-old baby.
"I've killed her," he told police. "She's dead. I'm guilty."
The previous day, a doctor told the parents at a crowded hospital nurses station, that the girl would never walk, never talk, never eat solid food and would need 24-hour care until she would died at an early age, probably during a bout with pneumonia.
The man, whose name is being suppressed, admitted to a friend -- and later to police on video-tape -- that he cuddled the girl and then closed his hand over her mouth and nose until she suffocated to death.
The man's defense attorney, Greg King, argued to the court that there was no evidence, beyond the man's own statements, to indicate he intended to kill his daughter. The medical examiner who performed the autopsy on the baby's body was not able to determine conclusively that she died from suffocation.
While King claimed that his client did not intend to kill the girl, he argued that the daughter's condition, along with the family's efforts to get a diagnosis, amounted to the parents' "psychological torture". King told reporters later that the death was not a "mercy killing".
The High Court's Justice Lowell Goddard said it seemed clear to him that the man did place his hand over the baby's face on the night she died. He told the jury, however, that it must decide "how deliberately he acted" before reaching its conclusion.
One legal expert called the verdict a case of "jury nullification", in which the jury acquits the accused killer out of a sense of sympathy for the killer rather than the victim.
"There are cases like this where a community sense of justice doesn't necessarily accord with the law because they sympathize greatly with the defendant," said Scott Optican, a senior lecturer in law at the University of Auckland.
Talk of the verdict dominated a bi-annual community conference held over the weekend. Disability advocates said they were stunned by the court's decision, but resolved to continue the work of changing attitudes of doctors and the public toward people with disabilities.
"We seem to have lost focus that a disabled child's life is as significant as a non-disabled child's," said Viv Maidaborn, CEO of CCS, an advocacy group. "The life of a disabled child is equally as valuable as any other child's, and they should expect to receive equal protection from our justice system."
"Outrage as father walks free" (New Zealand Herald)
"Complaint laid about hospital's care of dead baby" (New Zealand Press Association)