Mom gets five-year term for poisoning toddler after assault by child's father
A young mother's dire living circumstances were thrown into sharp relief during her sentencing for the murder of her 18-month daughter.
The Johannesburg high court handed the 20-year-old woman a five-year prison term that may include discretionary correctional supervision.
In a summary of the facts, acting judge CB Bhoola said the woman was 18 at the time of the offence in 2020.
“Her partner, who is the biological father of her three children, cheated on her with a neighbour. At the time of the incident, they had two children, a five-year-old and an 18-month-old [the deceased]. She was pregnant at the time. [She gave birth to the third child while in prison during the trial.]
“On the day of the incident, she left the deceased with her father, who was with another woman, and proceeded to a tavern to consume alcohol. The accused’s boyfriend was dissatisfied with her actions. He returned home during the day of the incident, when she was present, and assaulted her.
She transferred the psychological and emotional trauma she experienced as a result of the disagreement and her hatred for her boyfriend into action which caused the demise of the deceasedActing judge CB Bhoola
“The deceased was moved around between the accused, her sister-in-law and her biological father. When the accused was at home, the accused’s sister -in-law brought the deceased home to the accused so she could feed the deceased. The sister-in-law left the accused alone with the deceased.”
It was then the woman poisoned her child with aldicarb, a toxic pesticide commonly known as Temik.
This was according to a postmortem report, which also revealed the toddler was “reported to have had a history of poisoning”.
“What was discomforting was that a mother would kill her own child who was defenceless and helpless. She transferred the psychological and emotional trauma she experienced as a result of the disagreement and her hatred for her boyfriend into action which caused the demise of the deceased,” Bhoola said.
Before imposing the sentence, Bhoola said the “most important principle” of the “so-called triad” must be considered. This considers the crime, the interests of society and the offender. Added to that was the impact on the victim.
“In imposing an appropriate sentence, I must blend the sentence with an element of mercy,” the acting judge said.
Summarising the woman's personal circumstances as part of mitigating factors, Bhoola said the woman had opted not to testify in mitigation.
It emerged the woman had lost her father when she was young, was unmarried and lived with her boyfriend and deceased toddler. Her older son had gone to Krugersdorp with his maternal grandmother.
She had dropped out of school in grade 6 and was a slow learner who “had no long-term goals. She lived from hand to mouth and she was very poor.
“The social worker contended that the accused appeared to be emotionally immature and does not seek her children’s best interests. She is not emotionally or financially able to care for her children.
“She cannot express herself verbally and exhibits almost 'childlike' behaviour. She contended if the accused had to return home, she will continue living in the same manner as before her arrest with little to no responsibility and accountability for her actions.”
No victim impact report was submitted. The court relied on a report from a social worker and a correctional supervisor.
They were in conflict on the issue of sentencing. The correctional supervisor shared the view that the accused was a good candidate for correctional supervision “should the court consider correctional supervision as a sentencing option”.
The social worker said a minimum sentence option was applicable. She argued that community-based sentences “on their own are not adequate sentences but rather that the accused needs to undergo therapy and treatment while in prison to assist her in identifying some life skills and coping mechanisms”.
The woman's lawyer submitted there were “substantial and compelling circumstances for the court to deviate from the minimum sentence” of 15 years and these included that she pleaded guilty, showed remorse, was young and had young children to raise and had been abused by her boyfriend.
The state argued the woman's consumption of alcohol before the crime, the poisoning of her child and seriousness of the offence were all aggravating factors.
“She was well aware she gave her child the poison. She did not summon elders for help. She waited for the police. There was no remorse. She ought to have directed her anger towards her boyfriend and not the minor child,” the prosecution argued.
Evaluating the arguments, Bhoola reflected that ultimately the court has to “weigh up two competing rights.
“On the one hand I must consider the best interests of the children, and on the other hand I must impose an effective sentence which is fair and just.”
As a result, the woman was sentenced “to a period of correctional supervision of five years” in terms of the Criminal Procedure Act.
This is “imprisonment from which such a person may be placed under correctional supervision in the discretion of the commissioner or a parole board”.
Bhoola ordered the correctional service's national commissioner to ensure a social worker from its department visits her two surviving children at least once a month during her prison term to ascertain if they need care and protection.
The children have been placed in the “temporary safe care” of their maternal grandmother.
An investigation into the children's circumstances must be conducted by a social worker and that same social worker must assist with getting the children birth certificates.
“A specialist probation officer, who is in the employ of the department of social development in Krugersdorp, is to oversee that the maternal grandmother and the best interests of the two minor children are supervised pending the institution of children’s court proceedings instituted in the Krugersdorp magistrate's court.”
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