Mother found guilty of drowning autistic daughter
The Toronto Star, By Peter Small, Courts Bureau, March 01, 2008
Xuan (Linda) Peng has been found guilty of second-degree murder in the drowning death of her 4-year-old autistic daughter Scarlett in a bathtub in the family home.
A Superior Court jury returned its verdict Saturday morning after two days of deliberations.
Scarlett Chen was discovered unconscious by her distraught father David Chen in the tub on the second floor of the family's townhouse on Rosebank Dr., near Markham Rd. and Sheppard Ave. E. on July 12, 2004.
Peng told police that she had put their daughter down for a nap in the adjoining bedroom, and had no idea she had climbed into the bathtub, which the woman had filled with water to clean some kitchen utensils.
However, seven months later, homicide detectives charged the 36-year-old Chinese immigrant with first-degree murder. The charges were later reduced to second-degree murder.
Shortly after her arrest, Peng removed her glasses, smashed them, and used them to slash her arms, according to evidence at her bail hearing. The jury didn't hear this.
Scarlett was a lively little girl, physically healthy but developmentally delayed. She was diagnosed as mildly autistic.
In September 2001, Peng and her husband sent Scarlett, at age one, to live with her maternal grandmother Li Ning in China. She was to remain there for 30 months, until March 2004, when she returned to live with her parents, accompanied by her grandmother.
She was to die four months later.
Crown prosecutors Joshua Levy and Kim Motyl argued that Scarlett never really bonded with her parents, and that her diminutive mother couldn't cope with her.
However defence lawyers Kathryn Wells and John Mann insisted she was a loving mother devoted to raising her only daughter. Her husband testified that she adored Scarlett.
After Scarlett was born, Peng began to suffer from depression, and that was one of the reasons she could not care for her child, police said in a bail hearing in 2005. She was diagnosed as suffering from a bipolar affliction disorder.
However the jury did not hear about her mental illness. Justice Mary Lou Benotto ruled that such information would be unduly prejudicial.
During the trial, the emotional toll sometimes showed. With the jury gone, Peng once had to be restrained by her mother and husband in the courtroom after she cried out in distress. She was taken away to hospital by ambulance.
Some days she lay her head on a courtroom table and appeared to sleep.
The prosecutors argued that Peng was upset at news delivered by a pediatrician, just hours before Scarlett died, that there would be no surgical solution for the little girl's problems. However, her husband testified that the family was quite pleased with the doctor's news that good programs were available for the child.
That evening, with her mother and husband out of the home for a few hours, Peng was left alone, for the first time, with her little girl for a significant period, prosecutors pointed out.
They argued that she couldn't cope and that explained why she kept calling her husband on his cellphone urging him to return. In a moment of frustration, she drowned Scarlett in the bathtub, holding her down under the water, they argued.
By its verdict, the jury signalled that it agreed.
The sentence for second-degree murder is life in prison. Justice Benotto must rule on how long, within a range of 10 to 25 years, she must serve before being eligible to apply for parole.