WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. (AP) — A woman accused of force feeding her 5-year-old son salt through a stomach tube reveled in the attention that a sickly child brought her, a prosecutor said Thursday at her trial.
And Lacey Spears eventually killed the boy, Garnett-Paul Spears, because she feared he would start telling people she was making him ill, Assistant District Attorney Patricia Murphy suggested in closing arguments.
“The motive is bizarre, the notion is scary, but it exists ... She apparently craved the attention of her family, her friends, her co-workers and most particularly the medical profession,” she said.
Spears “created this false persona, this caring mother,” Murphy said.
But what she did to her son was “nothing short of torture,” the prosecutor said before the New York jury began deliberating charges of depraved murder and manslaughter. Deliberations resume Friday.
Earlier, defense lawyer Stephen Riebling described Spears, of Scottsville, Kentucky, as a caring mother who was devastated by her son’s death. He suggested the hospital was to blame — an assertion Murphy called “just ridiculous” — and tried to cast doubt on the medical examiner’s finding that high salt was the cause of death.
The prosecution says Spears induced brain swelling by feeding Garnett heavy concentrations of sodium through a stomach tube. Jurors saw a video that showed Spears taking her son into a hospital bathroom with a connector tube and the boy suffering afterward.
A feeding bag found in Spears’ apartment had the equivalent of 69 McDonald’s salt packets in it, a forensic toxicologist testified.
The defendant, who was depicted during the trial as unemotional, wept at times as her lawyer spoke.
“She loves her son very much. She cared deeply if he lived or died,” said Riebling, who added that Spears collapsed when she learned of her child’s death, and did Internet searches about how to commit suicide with insulin.
When edited-out scenes of the hospital video are restored, it “paints a completely different picture” than the prosecution’s, he said.
Missing scenes show Spears putting two pairs of socks on Garnett. “If she’s planning on killing him, why does she care whether his feet are cold?”
“Mother of the year,” the prosecutor later said sarcastically.
Hospital charts and video show a nurse failed to replace “the necessary maintenance fluids” that were being given to Garnett to keep him hydrated during bouts of diarrhea, Riebling said, adding that a doctor testified that water loss and no replacement fluids can lead to high salt levels.
Afterward, Garnett was given a rapid infusion of fluids. The makeup of the fluids is not known, but it was reasonable to conclude that it had too much sodium, he said.
The fluid was changed when “they realized he was getting a fluid high in sodium chloride,” Riebling said. “At the very least it’s reasonable doubt.”
A call to a Nyack Hospital spokeswoman requesting comment was not immediately returned.
Doctors testified that a child fed in an ordinary fashion would spit out that much salt. But Garnett had a feeding tube because his mother told doctors he could not keep food down otherwise.
Prosecutors said Spears, who documented her son’s hospital and doctor visits on social media, claimed the boy had illnesses he did not have.
A friend told the jurors that after Garnett died, Spears asked her “to go to her house and get a feeding bag in the middle of the room and throw it away and not tell anybody.” Riebling said the chain of custody couldn’t be trusted and the bag could have been tampered with.
Spears and her son lived in Chestnut Ridge, a suburb north of New York City, at the time of Garnett’s death. Lacey Spears, an Alabama native, moved to Kentucky afterward and was living there when she was arrested.