The Death of Garnett Spears

When I began researching this case, just as I do all cases that I research, I went in believing the jury got it right.  This is a must for me to do in order to have faith in our legal system.  As I read articles that were written throughout the trial I have to admit that I teetered back and forth on that decision enough that I almost felt I wondered just what solid evidence they had on this mother to convict her. Then I read up on some other things that leaned me back towards the jury's decision.  This case was just decided in April of 2015 and I will be interested in seeing any appeals papers that are published on this case in the future. This is either a case that did in fact involve a mother who had Munchausen by proxy and all of the previous doctors and DFS workers missed it or this is a case of a young boy who likely had severe medical issues that were not treated properly (by doctors) and unfortunately died because of that.

Garnett Spears was born December 3, 2008 in Alabama to mother Lacey Spears.  Lacey would later tell others that Garnett's father was a police officer named Blake who had been killed in a car accident.  It was discovered later that this was not true.  Although his name did not appear on Garnett's birth certificate apparently his father's name was Chris Hill and he was alive and well in Alabama.  He would claim that he had been involved with Lacey, who lived above him but they had broken up.  Then she discovered that she was pregnant and there was talk of marriage but that she suddenly changed her mind and avoided him.  At the time of his death Garnett was 5 years old and Chris Hill claimed he never saw him more than what it took for Lacey to get from her vehicle to her apartment above him until she moved several months later.  He would go on to claim that he only discovered of Garnett's issues a few days before he died through other people on Facebook.  Lacey had been maintaining both a Facebook page an a personal blog called "Garnett's Journey."  

When Garnett was about two and a half months old Lacey took him to The Children's Hospital of Alabama.  He was dehydrated and his sodium levels were at 165 (normal is between 135-145).  Despite a battery of tests that were run nothing was found that would have caused those levels.  He was stabilized and the levels returned to normal and he was returned home.  Although Lacey would later claim and it would be implied that he had several more hospitalizations over the next few years I only have an account of a few of the visits.  When Garnett was about 9 months old a feeding tube was inserted because he was failing to gain weight despite weighing 6 lbs 14 oz at birth.  

Sometime after this Lacey, who was originally from Kentucky, moved with Garnett to Clearwater Florida to live with her grandmother.  It was there that she became involved with a group call the "Fellowship Community."  Now, if you do a search about The Fellowship Community a lot of what you are going to find is about an aging community home in Chestnut Ridge New York (somewhere Lacey will eventually move to and ultimately be convicted in).  Beyond that what I can gather (and I welcome those who can tell me more), this is a branch of fellowship through the Presbyterian church that promotes "alternative lifestyles."  Now, exactly what this means I cannot be completely sure but the impression that I got was that they imply to be open to everyone as well as encourages people to live as freely (and off the land?) as much as possible.  To be honest my impression or understanding may be completely off.  In fact, the only reason that I mention this at all is that it was slightly mentioned, although not seemingly harped on when discussing Lacey and possibly some of her issues or in areas in which she lived and it could be indicative of her later behaviors.

At any rate, while living in Clearwater  there were two significant happenings.  One, Garnett had at least two hospital visits, and secondly, Florida DFS was given at least two reports on Lacey and her parenting with Garnett.  As far as the hospital visits I was just simply able to determine that at one visit he suffered from a staph infection which is likely common considering he was still being fed through his feeding tube and infections or common.  In another visit it was said that he had blood coming from his nose and ears.  I was only able to find out the reasons for the visits and nothing more.  Then in June of 2011 it seems DFS got their first call about Lacey.  The caller stated that Lacey would slap Garnett very hard for no apparent reason and then when he cried she would love on him.  Another call indicated that she took Garnett out when he had very high fevers and on at least one occasion had allowed him to go swimming when his eyes and ears were bleeding.  DFS apparently went in, checked on things, stated they found no abuse and closed the case.  

In November of 2012 Lacey and Garnett moved to Chestnut Ridge New York.  Once again the Fellowship Community was mentioned with this move as if she was much involved in their cause and lived in an area controlled or ran by them.  On January 14, 2014 Lacey took Garnett to Good Samaritan hospital because she said that he had suffered from seizures, not just at home prior to the visit but even on in their waiting room.  The odd thing about this is that there was no indication that anyone but Lacey was aware of a seizure in the waiting room which does not make any sense.  If you take your child to the hospital for emergency care because they are experiencing seizures and they have one in the waiting room are you not going to make a scene in the middle of the area to get help to him immediately, I mean come on, you are already at a hospital.  At any rate there were tests done and they found "nothing to treat" and no indication there had been seizure activity according to the records.  I am unsure if he then went home and returned on January 17th or if at that date he was still at the hospital for observation.  At any rate friends indicated that on the night of the 18th Garnett seemed to be acting as a normal child would despite being in a hospital room. However, the following day he was "flailing and unresponsive" and within a period of five hours his sodium level had gone from 144 to 182.  He was then airlifted to Nyack Hospital. Now, to be fair to Lacey, it seems that whenever she did take Garnett to the hospital at any point she made sure that at the age of two and a half months he had entered the hospital in Alabama with a high sodium level.  Presumably she also indicated that no reason had been found for it.  

A breathing tube was inserted and on the 20th, despite Lacey's resistance it was removed and he seemed to be doing a little better. On the 21st a neurological exam was done and the results were said to be normal.  Later that night Garnett coded and it was thought that his brain stem was herniated. On January 22nd, doctors informed Lacey that they were going to run tests but were all but certain that Garnett was now brain dead and would not survive. On the following day January 23, 2014 Garnett died.   On April 14th the medical examiner officially ruled Garnett's death as a homicide.  Lacey was indicted on June 17, 2014 and her trial began on February 3, 2015 and it would last 14 days.  The jury ultimately convicted Lacey of 2nd degree murder and she was sentenced to 20 years to life.

So, what evidence was there that this mother killed her child?  Little, when it came to direct evidence, but that is nothing unusual, most cases are built on circumstantial evidence that causes reasonable people to make reasonable deductions.  The prosecution put on several damaging witnesses.  There were a few experts who insisted that the only way that Garnett's sodium levels could rise as high as they did, let alone in the time that they did, was that he was ingested with sodium.  They all found it unlikely that even if he had access to it Garnett would have drank enough salt water to produce the results.  The prosecution showed the jury a video of Garnett's hospital room where he seemed fine and normal.  Then Lacey took him to the bathroom and not long later when he came out he was vomiting and no longer feeling well.  They theorized that while in the bathroom Lacey had put salt into Garnett's feeding tube.  The prosecution also had a friend of Lacey's who testified that on the night before Garnett died Lacey called her and asked her to go to her apartment and get a feeding bag and throw it away and to not "tell anyone."  The friend retrieved the bag but held on to it to later give the police.  I should note here that doctors at the hospital had called in their suspicions of abuse sometime at least before the 21st because on that day the police searched Lacey's apartment.  They left two feeding bags that were not recovered until another search was done on the 23rd and were later said, along with the bag from the friend, to be high in sodium levels, which was not normal.  

Also among witnesses was Garnett's pediatrician who testified that he had seen Garnett five times between April and November of 2013 with a new appointment scheduled for the month he died.  He told the jury that during those visits he had repeatedly requested to be allowed to have the tests required to possibly remove the feeding tube but that Lacey had always resisted.  To have the tube removed would have required a hospital stay of several days while tests and evaluations were done.  Other doctors and nurses from Nyack Hospital testified to procedures that were done as well as Lacey's reactions and state of mind. It was the testimony of these doctors in which actually made me question Lacey's guilt just a bit. The defense would argue that, the despite the testimony that the only way Garnett's sodium levels could have reached the levels that they did would have been through ingestion of salt, it was the care and change of diet that Garnett received that had in fact caused the rise in levels.  On direct examination one doctor claimed that when Lacey was informed that Garnett would not survive that she showed no reaction what so ever.  Upon cross examination the defense would point out that the doctor had said differently in a deposition he had given before trial.  Another doctor from the hospital would testify that Lacey was crying uncontrollably for about 90 minutes in the hallway after being given this news.  The defense would also have this doctor admit that they had had words with other doctors or administrators as to the care Garnett was receiving and indicated this doctor did not think enough was being done to care for his issues.

The one thing that likely hurt the defense the most at trial is the fact that they called no witnesses of their own.  Although the prosecutors, prior to trial, had indicated they thought Lacey suffered from Munchausen by proxy (a disorder in which a parent (usually a mother) purposely makes their child sick or gives the illusion that they are in order to gain attention), they never officially used that term throughout the trial. They did however say that her motive was to get attention and sympathy for herself. Apparently the video showing Garnett acting normal and well prior to going to the bathroom with his mother and then vomiting and feeling ill after had a large impact on the jury.  One juror would claim later there was absolutely no doubt in anyone's mind that she was guilty.

I began my research with the multitude of articles on the trial that were written daily, if not more often, that laid out the testimony of with witnesses at trial.  As I stated earlier, it was at the point of reading about the testimony of some of the doctors where I questioned if the jury got it correct.  I admit that this comes from my own experience dealing with doctors and the medical profession.  I felt that their testimony was questionable and felt as if they may have been less than truthful (at least until it was drug out of them) of anything they may have been responsible for.  Now, this is not to say that their testimony alone would have made a decision for me, but I have seen enough situations in which doctors, and/or hospitals, take whatever measures they can to make themselves look better than they should and avoid taking responsibility.  But there again, that is just my opinion.  Once I got past the articles pertaining to the trial I moved on to other areas.  This is when my opinion, or gut feeling, moved back to believing it is likely the jury did in fact get it right.  One of the biggest issues was that surrounding Garnett's father.  I searched to see if Lacey's blog, Garnett's Journey was still available online and while it is, curiously only two posts remain on the blog.  The first was dated June of 2011 and a story about how Garnett asked who or where his Daddy was.  Lacey told some story about how because of his young age she simply stated that he was "inside" Garnett as he had helped make him and pretty much the subject was dropped.  The only other entry was in September of 2012 where Lacey talks about how "Blake" the "love of her life" and Garnett's father, had been gone a full year from that day and how much she and Garnett missed him.  People would later say that they had known Lacey when Garnett was born and she lived in Alabama and they knew that Chris Hill was not only his father but had never heard of this "Blake" person and that when she started discussing this on Facebook, they began un-friending her because they knew she was being less than truthful.  Also included on the blog were several pictures of Garnett.  The interesting thing about that was that in many of the pictures Garnett looked much like a little girl.  I saw several pictures in which Garnett had shoulder length flowing hair (beautiful I might add) which in and of it self was not alarming but there were pictures in which his hair was pulled back in a way (generally leaving bangs) and his clothing was so gender neutral that without knowing better I believed it was a little girl, and apparently by several comments I read I was not alone.  There were also pictures showing him still at age four with a pacifier and wearing diapers.  Although it was either deleted or it was on her Facebook in which I never discovered, apparently Lacey addressed some of these issues in a post in which she expressed anger at people judging her.  There is a part of me that defends her because as parents we are the ones who know (or are supposed to know) best about our children and their needs and when they are ready to move on to the next stage.  I would have also probably defended her when it came to some of the doctors judgments, again because of my past experience.  But, then when I put everything together..... the multiple moves, the sick child, the behaviors (meaning things like the pacifier, diapers, multiple refusals to have feeding study done, and even the constant documentation of his health on social media), the lies, and so many other things I tell myself there definitely was something wrong with that woman.  Although I did not see it on her blog, there were comments that not only had she claimed this "Blake's" (who was later to be found fictional) death, after getting Garnett a dog they called "Odie," it mysteriously died also.  Add this with the death of her son and I have to agree this was a woman who was screaming "Look at me! I need attention! I want sympathy!"  

As is common in cases post conviction, the defense of course wants the minimum sentence while the prosecution wants the maximum.  In this case the maximum was 25 years to life and the minimum was 15 to life.  The judge compromised right down the middle giving her 20 years to life.  And, although as I said the prosecution leaned towards, yet never stated, munchausen by proxy, the judge referred to it in his sentencing as to say he believed she did suffer from this and why he had not given her the maximum sentence, hoping she would receive help.  

I look forward to seeing a future appeal of this case. And I have to be honest, it is not out of the realm of possibility that she may receive a new trial.  Most defendants will argue in their appeals ineffective council and most generally it is just a standard statement to get an appeal on the books.  I wonder if in this case it may work considering that they put on no defense of their own.  The attorney's seemed to be able to get some good information out of witnesses in their cross examining so they may not have been all bad, and maybe truthfully they had nothing to present, but that would be unusual.  

**** Edited to add in April 2016****

I am actually still in the process of watching the new episode of 48 Hours in which they featured this case and spoke to Lacey Spears from jail.  I cannot hardly bring myself to watch her as I feel like her psychopath is bouncing off of her.  The look in her eyes and the way she carries her self has done nothing but reinforce the feelings I had when I wrote this initial blog.  I know I have recently done one discussing Munchausen by Proxy and the diagnosis itself and I believe that I touched on those feelings here but this woman is deeply troubled in many ways and her behavior shows it. 

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