Thursday, June 25, 2009

Australian parents convicted of starving 7-year-old daughter with autism to death

From AAP:

The mother of a seven-year-old girl who died of starvation has been found guilty of her murder by a NSW Supreme Court jury.

The same jury found the child's father guilty of the lesser charge of manslaughter after a week of deliberations.

The 47-year-old man and his 35-year-old wife, who cannot be named for legal reasons, had both pleaded not guilty to murdering the child at their Hawks Nest home on November 3, 2007.

The autistic girl weighed just 9kg at the time of her death and had the bone development of a five-year-old.

Several doctors testified she suffered the most severe case of malnutrition they had ever seen, with one expert saying the child's head resembled a skull wrapped in skin.

Her condition was likened to that of Holocaust victims, and it was the crown's case that she died as the result of long-lasting starvation and neglect.

During the trial, the parents admitted lying to police when they claimed she was happy and well the night before her death, with the jury told she would have been "semi-conscious to comatose" for days.

The child's father blamed the mother for the death, saying she was solely responsible for the seven-year-old's care.

The mother told the jury the thought her daughter may die "never entered my head".

After a five-week trial, the jury retired just after 10am (AEST) on June 16, and returned with the verdicts shortly after 2.15pm today.

The parents, who had separate legal representation, were both remanded in custody after the verdict was handed down.

Neither parent displayed any emotion when the verdicts were revealed.

The father's legal counsel, Mark Austin, asked for a six week adjournment to allow time for psychiatric reports to be prepared before the sentencing hearing.

The mother's lawyer, Dennis Stewart, said he had two such reports ready, and her sentencing hearing was set down for 10am on Wednesday.

Justice Robert Allan Hulme told the jurors counselling was available to them, and advised them to take advantage of the service if they felt it would be of benefit.

He also thanked them for their diligence.

The couple's three other daughters remain in the custody of the Department of Community Services.