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Verdict shocks experts

Murder convictions rare when moms kill newborns

The Edmonton Journal, Jim Farrell, Thursday, September 28, 2006

EDMONTON -- Legal experts, stunned by Tuesday's second-degree murder conviction of a 20-year-old woman who killed her newborn baby, declared an appeal on the grounds of "unreasonable verdict" a virtual certainty.

Expect Katrina Effert of Wetaskiwin to win that appeal and get a new trial says a University of Winnipeg criminologist.

"I think her chances are pretty good," Kirsten Kramar said. "Effert's second-degree murder conviction is completely out of step with jurisprudence in other provinces. It wasn't a just outcome."

The jury at Effert's trial had the option of finding her guilty of second- degree murder, of infanticide or of manslaughter. Convicted of infanticide or manslaughter, Effert might have gone to jail for a short period of time or she might have received only a conditional sentence and done no time at all.

In almost every case of infanticide, a mother gets a conditional sentence, Kramar said. The longest sentence in recent Canadian history was the nine-month jail term of a New Brunswick woman in 1990.

News of Effert's life sentence with no parole eligibility for 10 years rocked local legal circles.

"I was very sad," said Edmonton lawyer Dino Bottos, who has handled a similar case.

"I was very surprised that was the result on the evidence presented," said prominent defence lawyer Brian Beresh.

"This is an odd decision based on the unanimity of expert opinion that Effert had a disturbed mind," said Sanjeev Anand, a professor of criminal and constitutional law at the University of Alberta.

But overturning the verdict of a jury trial won't be easy, he warns. "The burden for proving an unreasonable verdict is very high, proving that if properly instructed and acting reasonably they could not have convicted.

"It is up to the jury to decide how much of the evidence of the experts to consider. The appeal court may say a jury was acting reasonably in not accepting the expert evidence."

Still, lawyers said Effert should have been convicted of the lesser offence of infanticide, not second-degree murder. Two expert witnesses -- a forensic psychologist and a forensic psychiatrist -- testified at her trial she suffered a "disturbed mind" after secretly giving birth in the basement of her parents' home in the early hours of April 14, 2005.

Her secret pregnancy, the hormonal changes she underwent and the trauma of secretly giving birth must have proved overwhelming, they said.

Within hours of giving birth Effert strangled her baby with her thong panties and threw his body into a neighbour's yard.

If psychiatric examinations indicated Effert was insane when she committed her crime that would have rendered her not criminally responsible, expert witnesses testified during the trial. She wasn't insane but she did suffer from a disturbed mind, they told the court.

Under Canadian law a "disturbed mind" earns a mother a measure of leniency under the lesser charge of infanticide.

Forensic psychologist Marc Nesca of Calgary's Peter Lougheed Hospital examined Effert following her arrest and testified at her trial. Alberta Hospital forensic psychiatrist Dr. Vijay Singh also examined her. Both Nesca and Singh told the jury that Effert had suffered from a disturbed mind.

Paternity Fraud
UK National Survey

Paternity fraud survey statistics

Scotland's National Newspaper

96% of women are liars, honest

5,000 women polled

Half the women said that if they became pregnant by another man but wanted to stay with their partner, they would lie about the baby's real father.

Forty-two per cent would lie about contraception in order to get pregnant, no matter the wishes of their partner.


Women who kill their children are given sympathy and sentenced to "treatment" while men who do the same thing are charged with murder and sentenced to life.

Perhaps it is not a coincidence that women are many times more likely to murder their offspring than men. 

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