Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Vancouver woman sentenced to 5 years in jail for killing newborn sons

A young Vancouver woman who killed her two infant sons was afflicted with a "disturbed mind" in the moments following childbirth, a judge concluded Tuesday as she imposed a five-year prison term for infanticide.

But the judge could offer little else to explain why Sarah Leung killed the babies, giving birth twice in the bathroom of her parents' home before wrapping each baby in plastic. She left one propped against a neighbour's house in the spring of 2009, while she threw the second, born less than a year later, in the trash.

Leung told police she was panicked by the fear of disappointing her traditional Chinese family. She apologized in court and said she felt "unbearable sadness" for what she had done.

B.C. Supreme Court Justice Mary Humphries described Leung's actions as "horrific, sad and incomprehensible," and she suggested even Leung's own words during her sentencing hearing last month could not adequately explain what happened.

"From the first to the last, from my perspective, Ms. Leung's personality, motivations and actions remain difficult to assess and understand," Humphries wrote in her decision, portions of which were read aloud in court.

Leung was also ordered to notify provincial child-welfare officials if she becomes pregnant during the next 20 years.

The woman, now 29, calmly listened as the judge outline the sentence. Leung could be seen crying before the hearing, and when it was finished, a family member wailed loudly as Leung was handcuffed and led away by a sheriff.

Leung became pregnant in 2008, when she was 22. Her boyfriend, a visiting student from China named Anson Lin, was excited to become a father, the court heard, though Leung hid her relationship and the pregnancy from her parents.

She later told investigators she was afraid of being disowned for contradicting her family's values, in particular for having sex outside of marriage.

In late March or early April of 2009, she experienced severe pain early one morning. She went to the bathroom and delivered the baby into the toilet, the trial heard. She cleaned up and put the baby in a plastic bag, though it remains unclear whether the newborn was alive or dead.
Leung's father discovered the baby on April 2, 2009, though he did not realize it belonged to his daughter.

Police soon used DNA testing to determine the baby was Leung's. As she was investigated for the baby's death, Leung became pregnant again.

During that pregnancy, her parents knew about her relationship. But they did not know about the second pregnancy, nor did they know Leung and Lin had married in secret.

Lin, again eager to have a child, encouraged Leung to seek prenatal medical care.

In March 2010, she again experienced pain early one morning, and for the second time delivered the baby into a toilet. She wrapped the baby in plastic and disposed of the bag in a garbage bin. The body was never found.

Leung was arrested later that month.

She was initially charged with two counts of second-degree murder, but a jury convicted her of the lesser charge of infanticide.

The judge noted the conviction means the jury believed that while Leung intended to kill the infants, her mind was disturbed when she did so. The Criminal Code says the infanticide defence is open to a woman who "is not fully recovered from the effects of giving birth to the child."

Infanticide is a rare and poorly understood phenomenon one that is "apparently not a concept known to psychiatry," Humphries noted.

The Crown already filed an appeal of the verdict, arguing errors during the trial led the jury to acquit Leung of second-degree murder.

The maximum sentence for infanticide is five years, compared with life for murder. Because the sentences for two counts were imposed consecutively, the maximum sentence Leung could have faced was 10 years.

The Crown argued for an eight-year sentence, while the defence asked for three years.

Humphries sentenced Leung to 18 months for the first baby's death and 42 months for the second. After credit for time in pre-trial custody, the total sentence is just under five years.

Outside court, Leung's lawyer said he had confidence in the judge's ruling, though he declined to say whether he was considering an appeal.


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