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Mommy blogger Lacey Spears was sentenced for the poisoning death of her son.
Lacey Spears was a prolific blogger. She wrote hundreds of entries about her young son who seemed to always be sick. The boy died of salt poisoning when he was only 5 years old, reports The Associated Press.
This is where the story takes a disturbing turn. Prosecutors arrested Spears and charged her with murdering her son. She was accused of making her son sick so that she could blog about it. She wanted attention and sympathy from other people. Spears took it too far one day and killed her son by putting too much salt in his feeding tube.
While Spears' lawyers never raised the possibility of Munchausen syndrome by proxy as a defense, the judge said, "One does not have to be a psychiatrist to realize you suffer from Munchausen by proxy." Spears was convicted of murder and sentenced to 20 years to life in prison.
What is Munchausen Syndrome By Proxy?
Munchausen syndrome by proxy (MSbP) is a mental illness. The affected caretaker often makes up fake illnesses or induces illness in the person they are caring for to get attention. This happens most often in mothers caring for young children or adults caring for elderly parents. Munchausen syndrome by proxy is different from Munchausen syndrome where the affected person fakes an illness in herself to get attention or sympathy.
MSbP can often be very hard to recognize. A caretaker may have MSbP if a child has strange symptoms that don't fit any disease. The symptoms the mother claims to see don't show up in any tests. Usually, the mother reports symptoms of illness, but doctors can't find any.
People with MSbP require psychiatric counseling.
Competency to Stand Trial
So if the judge thought Spears had a mental illness, why did she have to stand trial? Isn't there some mental competency issue? A person with mental illness is not necessarily always incompetent to stand trial. The standard that most states use is whether the defendant has "sufficient present ability to consult with his lawyer with a reasonable degree of rational understanding."
A person with severe schizophrenia who cannot respond to questions may be considered to be incompetent. However, a person with severe depression is not incompetent if she can still understand the charges and evidence against her.
In this case, Spears was never diagnosed with MSbP, nor was it raised as a defense, according to the AP. So, competency to stand trial was not an issue.
However, the judge probably did take MSbP into consideration when he decided to not give Spears the maximum sentence of 25 years to life. MSbP is not just a mental illness. It can also lead to child abuse. If you suspect a child may be suffering abuse, please report it to local authorities.