Wragg Walks Free, Cleared Of Murdering His Son
By Dave Reynolds, Inclusion Daily Express
December 13, 2005
EAST SUSSEX, ENGLAND--Andrew Wragg walked out of Lewes Crown Court Monday a free man after a jury determined that he did not murder his 10-year-old son.
Mrs. Justice Anne Rafferty, calling the case "exceptional", gave Wragg a two-year prison sentence for manslaughter, then suspended his sentence for two years. Rafferty said there was "nothing to be gained" from sending Wragg to prison for the crime.
Wragg, 38, admitted that he suffocated Jacob to death with a pillow on July 24, 2004 because of the boy's disabilities related to Hunter syndrome. Children with Hunter syndrome experience a number of disabilities and rarely live into their twenties. Wragg said he believed his son communicated to him, through a look in his eyes, that he wanted to die.
A military security specialist, Wragg also claimed that he was under stress after returning from the war in Iraq. He pleaded guilty to manslaughter by reason of diminished capacity.
Prosecutors stressed that Jacob was not "on death's door", was aware of what was happening, and was fully able to make his own decisions. Family members pointed out that, even though he used a wheelchair, could not talk and was deaf, Jacob was happy and "giggly", particularly on the day his father decided to kill him.
Still, the jury agreed with Wragg that the act was a "mercy killing" to end the boy's "suffering".
Rafferty said her decision to give a lighter sentence was influenced by what she believed was approval by Jacob's mother, Mary Wragg.
Mrs. Wragg, who has since divorced Jacob's father, testified that Mr. Wragg told her to take their 6-year-old son, George, to her mother's flat. She said that she thought Mr. Wragg wanted to have some private time with her. She told the court she was shocked when her husband called to report that he had killed Jacob.
Rafferty told the court that Mrs. Wragg had driven some distance after leaving their home, but stopped and waited for her husband's phone call before continuing on to her mother's flat with George.
"One would have to be quite remarkably naive to accept that this dedicated and experienced mother behaved in that way solely as to enjoy an evening of prolonged intimacy with you," Rafferty told Wragg at sentencing.
Wragg refused to comment after he was released.
His ex-wife, however, told reporters: "This case was never about Jacob's quality of life. He wasn't aware he was different or less able in any way. Jacob was a happy loving child living in a sometimes difficult body."
"Jacob's condition has been used as an excuse for this crime and I find it appalling anyone would try to portray him as being less deserving of his life or less entitled to enjoy every precious moment his condition allowed. I am shocked by the sentence and the message it sends to others."
Britain's Lord High Chancellor has called for a review of murder laws in England and Wales to determine when defenses such as diminished responsibility or "mercy killing" are applicable.
"I think the public, and the jury and people involved in these cases need to have a clearer picture of where the line is to be drawn because the discussion we're having now reveals to some extent the difficulties of where that line is," Lord Falconer said.
"The law can never condone mercy killing, because the law is there in part to protect people who might be killed," he explained.
Jacob's death is one of many cases of "altruistic filicide", in which a parent kills a child -- often one with disabilities -- claiming the death is "for the child's own good". Dismissal of Wragg's murder charges may reflect a trend in the United Kingdom toward favoring legalization of assisted suicide and euthanasia for people with certain disabilities and medical conditions.
"Father cleared of murdering son" (BBC News)
"Former SAS soldier who smothered terminally ill son walks free" (The Guardian)
"Review 'will clarify murder laws'" (BBC News)