NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — A mother has been charged in Westchester County with systematically poisoning her 5-year-old son to death.
Lacey Spears, 26, pleaded not guilty Tuesday to charges of second-degree depraved murder and first-degree manslaughter, CBS 2’s Lou Young reported. Her son, Garnett, who was fitted with a feeding tube because of nourishment issues, died in January of sodium poisoning at Westchester Medical Center, authorities said.
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Authorities believe the mother tortured her son medically for years and might have suffered from Munchausen syndrome by proxy, a psychiatric illness in which a parent sickens a child to gain attention and sympathy. Spears often blogged about Garnett’s deteriorating medical condition.
The case could be the first invovling Munchausen syndrome by proxy in the Internet age, Young reported.
Prosecutors on Tuesday said Spears fed her son lethal amounts of salt and that the mother had conducted Internet research about the effects salt would have on the boy. Garnett was brought to Nyack Hospital on Jan. 17 with seizure-like symptoms before being transferred to Westchester Medical Center on Jan. 19 after his sodium levels rose with no medical explanation. At the request of doctors, the state Office of Children and Family Services had already launched an investigation into whether Spears was harming her son before Garnett died Jan. 23, prosecutors said.
Spears, who had been staying with family in Kentucky, turned herself in to Westchester County police Tuesday after an indictment against her was handed up and police obtained an arrest warrant.
“She really didn’t show any emotion,” Westchester Police Capt. Christopher Calabrese told Young. “She was kind of stoic when she came here. I think that she knew the grand jury was going on. She anticipated this happening, and she turned herself in with her attorney.”
A judge denied bail for Spears, who faces a maximum sentence of 25 years to life in prison if convicted.
The only words she said in court Tuesday were “yes, sir” when the judge asked if she was Lacey Spears.
She is due back in court July 2.
Spears’ father, Terry Spears, accompanied her to her arraignment Tuesday, but did not speak to reporters.
Because Garnett died in Westchester County, police there are handling the case. Spears also had lived in Alabama, Florida and Kentucky before moving to New York.
“Numerous detectives traveled up and down the East Coast numerous times, conducting multiple interviews, examining multiple documents, following a tremendous amount of leads,” Westchester County Public Safety Commissioner George Longworth told reporters.
Lacey and Garnett Spears lived the last year of the boy’s short life living at the Fellowship Community, an idyllic communal community in Chestnut Ridge, in Rockland County, where the mother cared for the elderly and farmed, and the boy attended school.
“What went wrong?” Valarie Plausche, a Fellowship Community resident, told Young last month. “What would make someone sick enough to hurt their child?”
One resident of the community has said Spears called her asking that she dispose of Garnett’s feeding bag just before he died.
“How did so many people live around that story and none of us knew?” said Kirsten Young, another resident of the community, said in May.
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