DA seeking life sentence in Lacey Spears' salt-poisoning of son

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Tim Fleischer reporting (WABC)

Prosecutors are seeking the maximum sentence for a woman convicted of killing her 5-year-old son by poisoning him with salt.

Lacey Spears of Scottsville, Kentucky, was found guilty last month of second-degree murder in the death of Garnett-Paul Spears at a suburban New York hospital.

The 27-year-old Spears was found guilty of force-feeding heavy concentrations of sodium through the boy's stomach tube.

At Wednesday's sentencing, the maximum that can be imposed is 25 years to life. The minimum is 15 to life.

Defense attorneys said the evidence did not prove murder. They have promised an appeal of the conviction. Spears did not testify at the trial.

Spears blogged for years about her son's constant health woes and barely flinched as the jury foreman read the verdict. Her sister and father consoled each other at the time.

After a two-week trial, and two and a half days of deliberations, the panel found the mother guilty of second-degree murder in the January 2014 death of her 5-year-old son Garnett.

"She's probably in shock to some degree, but I'm not going to speculate about that," defense attorney Stephen Riebling said. "I didn't ask her how she was doing, but I mean if you put yourself in her position, you can understand how she's feeling."

Prosecutors said Spears demonstrated utter disregard for her son's life by poisoning him with a lethal dose of sodium inserted through the boy's feeding tube, all in a desperate attempt to attract attention and gain sympathy.

Alternate juror Andrew Digiacomo heard all the arguments and listened to all the testimony.

"Every piece of medical evidence suggests that the only way that he could have reached that high level of sodium was if he was poisoned," he said. "And the only person that could have poisoned him was her."

Spears will be sentenced in early April, and she can expect no sympathy from the district attorney.

"My office will be asking the court to sentence Miss Spears to the maximum sentence allowed under the law, which is a life sentence," DA Janet DiFiore said.

Riebling portrayed Spears as a caring mother and her son as sickly, but the prosecution argued that Spears reveled in the attention Garnett's illness brought her. Video showed Spears twice taking the boy into a hospital bathroom with a connector tube and the boy suffering afterward.

"The motive is bizarre, the motive is scary, but it exists," Assistant District Attorney Patricia Murphy said in closing arguments Thursday. "She apparently craved the attention of her family, her friends, her co-workers and most particularly the medical profession."

She suggested that Spears eventually killed the boy because she feared he would start telling people she was making him ill. Her actions were "nothing short of torture," she said.

Several doctors testified that there was no medical explanation for the spike in Garnett's sodium levels that led to his death.

But Riebling argued there was no "direct evidence" of a crime and drew out from witnesses that Spears seemed devastated by her son's death. He said the hospital video was edited to eliminate tender scenes between mother and son, including one where Spears puts two pairs of socks on Garnett.

"If she's planning on killing him, why does she care whether his feet are cold?" he asked the jury.

He also said the hospital was negligent and dehydrated the boy - an assertion Murphy called "just ridiculous."

The evidence included two feeding bags found in Spears' apartment that were heavily tainted with salt, including one that Spears asked a friend to hide. One bag had the equivalent of 69 McDonald's salt packets in it, a forensic toxicologist testified.

Also in evidence were many of Spears' postings on Facebook, Twitter, MySpace and a blog and her online research into the dangers of sodium in children.

Spears, an Alabama native, was living with her son in Chestnut Ridge, N.Y., when he died. She moved to Kentucky afterward and was living there when she was arrested.

There was no mention at the trial of a disorder known as Munchausen by proxy in which caretakers secretly harm children to win sympathy. Some experts believe that disorder fits Spears' actions.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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