Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Travesty of justice: Vegan couple sentenced to LIFE, for death of their child

A vegan couple, charged with willfully starving their 6 week old infant (Crown Shakur) to death, was sentenced to life in prison by a Georgia Superior Court Judge.

Apparently, Jade Sanders (27) and Lamont Thomas (31) fed their newborn son mostly soy milk and organic apple juice, in addition to the breast feeding and soy formula he was given, which the mother later acknowledged during the trial. The couple seemed totally unaware that their son was malnourished, and had no idea he was on the verge of death until they took him to the hospital where he was pronounced dead, weighing in at a paltry 3 1/2 pounds. But the parents, who birthed Crown at home, because they feared germs in hospitals, claim he was a tiny baby, born prematurely. Their defense attorney (per The Atlanta Journal Constitution) "said he believes they unintentionally starved their child by feeding him apple juice that may have acted as a diuretic and blocked the absorption of nutrients from the soy milk, soy formula and breast milk." And so do I!

Before you rush to judgement regarding this case, as so many in the blogosphere have done, let me explain why I don't believe they deserved such a harsh sentence.

The jury found the couple guilty of malice murder, felony murder, involuntary manslaughter and cruelty to children. I can understand involuntary manslaughter, but malice murder? "Malice murder", as defined by the Georgia State Penal Code, (O.C.G.A. 16-5-1) occurs when an individual unlawfully and with malice aforethought causes the death of another person. Malice aforethought is defined as an intention to kill another human being. Therefore, in order to be convicted of malice murder, the state must prove that the defendant had the specific intent to kill the victim. This intent may be found in the defendant’s actions toward the victim (i.e., threats, etc.), in his use of a deadly weapon, or in the defendant’s acts which exhibit a reckless disregard for human life.

If they had truly intended to 'murder' their child, in cold blood, would there not have been other tell-tale signs of abuse? Yes, the child was skinny, but every Vegan I know looks malnourished, so the parents probably thought nothing of it. Ignorance yes, murder, no. And Apple juice is a diuretic? How many of you knew that? I certainly didn't, and I am extremely health conscious. Both grandmothers remember a laughing, smiling grandchild who didn't cry any more than any other baby. And if we are going to hold ignorant parents liable, what about parents with an obese child who feed him/her junk food? That kid is going to eventually have serious health problems, that may or may not contribute to an early death. Should they too be convicted of murder?

A life sentence for 'ignorance' is a gross injustice. And for bloggers to condemn without knowing the absolute truth about these people, is truly hateful. Many people erroneously jump to conclusions about Vegetarians. One blog I came across implied that Vegans were greenies or idle rich. Vegetarianism (in all its various manifestations, including Veganism) is not exclusively the purview of the idle rich. People of all ethnicities, ages, political affiliations etc. embrace vegetarianism for a plethora of reasons, running the gamut from health to spiritual and everything in between. Did Jade and Lamont feed their baby soy milk and apple juice with the express desire of killing Crown Shakur? I think not. We probably will never know why they chose to be Vegans, or to not visit doctors, but those are personal choices, which people often keep hidden, for fear of ridicule. I have no faith in western medicine and for 20 plus years never saw a doctor, until some health issues forced me to, but I still look to alternative medicine for healing. And whether it was right or wrong (and that's debatable) for them to have subjected their child to their dietary limitations, they did not deserve a life sentence.

This case brings to mind a similar one, a few years back. Lamoy and Joseph Andressohn (a raw- foodist Miami couple) who were acquitted of aggravated manslaughter in the death of their 6 month old girl, Woyah. They were, however, convicted of 4 counts of child neglect, for feeding their other children a raw foods diet. Woyah had been diagnosed, at birth, with DiGeorge Syndrome (a rare disease with an 86% infant mortality rate), so the child would probably have died anyway, and no-one can ascertain, one way or another, whether her death was a direct result of her disease or being fed raw foods. The Andressohns were jailed for 99 days, while awaiting sentencing, but a judge, in December 2003, sentenced them to 15 years probation and ordered the parents to keep the children on a nutritionist's approved diet and to immunize them. Formerly home-schooled, they are now being forced to go to public school. There was never any question about the amount of food the children were being fed, they weren't starved, it was just the fact they were being fed raw-foods that the courts took issue with. They felt the children weren't large enough, and although they were first considered malnourished, that notion was quickly disproved and eventually dismissed.

I know many people who have raised their children as Vegans and Vegetarians, and they are healthy and strong. Many illnesses are diet related and though I don't follow a Vegan or Raw Food diet (I'm primarily a Vegetarian), it has been proven to help alleviate many diseases. In fact the AMA, in 2002, published an article claiming that "Adolescents who eat a vegetarian diet are more likely to meet the Healthy People 2010 objectives by, on average, consuming less total fat and saturated fat, and eat more servings of fruits and vegetables than their nonvegetarian counterparts." The AMA journal has also stated that 90 plus % of heart disease can be prevented with a Vegetarian diet. So, naturally, there are parents who feel that a meatless diet is in the best interest of their child. Can you fault them? And we've discussed this issue before, but I still believe parenting classes for parents-to-be should be mandatory, including classes on nutrition. Many first-time-parents have no clue, whatsoever, what to expect. They need to know whether a newborn is thriving or not. How do you know that if you aren't taught?

I think what troubles me most, about the life sentence (besides the whole government dictating how we raise our children and what we feed them issue), is this couple received a far harsher punishment than people who have inadvertently (or not) left their children to die in cars, in 90 plus degrees heat; or pedophiles who have scarred for life the children they have abused, or individuals who have beaten and tortured 3 year olds to death. The average jail sentence for someone who actually punches or stabs a child to death is 11 years! Pedophiles have been released on probation! Compare that with a life sentence for a couple who thought they were doing what was best for their child, and tell me if that is justice!


Pat Jenkins said...

I'm with ya on this one. Who knew actually feeding someone something, apple juice, will cause a death. I don't know many infants who eat much solids any hoo, i know our child was a juice consuming fool. This death seems a little odd, but we will leave the diagnosis to better minds then I.

Panhandle Poet said...

Wow, this is definitely a "hot button" for you. I think you are probably on target though. Ignorance/stupidity, whatever you want to call it, shouldn't receive such a harsh penalty. I know there are differences between Vegans and Vegetarians. I personally am omnivorous, but I've given a lot of thought to the health issues and Vegetarianism as a possible alternative. I've come to the conclusion however, that I will eat what I enjoy -- in moderation. We have a tendency to eat too much. Eat less, exercise more.

Papa J said...

I have a good friend who refused to immunize her children for measles. You can guess what happened. None of the children died when they caught the measles, and I am sure that the children are stronger for it.

There are a few parents that intentionally abuse their children. Most parents however are concientious. They do what THEY think is BEST.

I have been to the store once or twice with a child that had a big black eye or a massive bruise. I have never struck my children in anger, but I do worry what conclusions the public at large would draw from my bruised child.

So, can this judge seeing my unconventionally large family (6 kids) decide that we are doing it all wrong? call it neglect?

The jury should have been instructed what malice aforethought meant and concluded that this case fit. Either that or this couple got a very crappy public defender. I know that some judges can have overly strong influance on a jury.

I'm afraid that while I agree with your overall assessment that the government should stay out of most people's lives, I just don't know enough about this particular case to have an opinion one way or another.

Incognito said...

I wasn't sure how everyone would react to this post. But I think it's horrendous to have given them life, when people who have actually tortured and killed children get from 3 to 11 years.

PAT: You don't feed 6 week olds solids, do you? I've no children, so I wouldn't know. But I think the point the defense atty was making that by feeding the baby apple juice, in addition to the soy etc, and being a diuretic, all the nutrients the baby needed to thrive were flushed out. And hence the malnutrition. If they wanted to kill the baby, they could have just suffocated him and claimed SID. I am convinced it was accidental.

PAN: Can you tell? :-) I'm not saying vegetarianism is for everyone and I have never tried to 'convert' anyone. It is much healthier, plus no chance of Mad Cow disease..

PAPAJ: I understand your friend's concern. There are people who believe that it causes more harm than good.
It is sad that nowadays we look at things from a darker perspective. I see an older man with a young child and I wonder. You see bruises and you wonder. Never used to be that way. Though I think a spanking, occasionally, is in order with a wild child. Not out of anger but discipline.
Know what I think, I think they got a raw deal because the couple was black. Now I will be the first to denounce the race card, but I just have to wonder.

Panhandle Poet said...

Mad Cow disease?? You have a higher chance of a penny falling off of a tall building and hitting you on the head and killing you than you have of contracting Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE - aka Mad Cow Disease). If it happens to you, God was gonna find a way to get you no matter what you do! The US has the safest food supply in the world. I would have a greater fear of e. coli poisoning from lettuce brought in from Mexico than from BSE -- or, from hepatitis caught at the salad bar -- or, from -- you get the picture.

Incognito said...

Exactly, Pan, one less thing to worry about ;-)

And I agree, if it's your time to go it's your time to go. regardless of what you do or don't do to try and prevent it.

MUD said...

If a child dies and the government makes the parents change what they are doing with the surviving children, I would hardly call it dictating. There has to be more to the story than life in prison for having a child die in their care. This is one time I will have to call BS on the story.

Peter said...

Thanks for the link. I also think this is excessive. Just this morning I blogged about a crackhead in Milwaukee who suffocated a 19 month old girl. Child welfare people had been warned and ignored the warnings ... will be interesting to see what he gets.

Incognito said...

My main point MUD, was that I don't believe they deserved *life* in prison, when there were no other telltale signs of abuse, and people get off with 11 years or less for torturing, stabbing and beating their children to death. It seems extreme and very unfair, in my mind.

We will have to agree to disagree, :-) but I wouldn't call it BS.

PaulaBXX said...

Really interesting blog, i have not seen any publicity for this, so am coming at it from what i have just read. You are right, when compared to other child related crimes, this sems so over the top, it does not make sense? and yes, it was there choice not to see a doctor, BUT a 6wk old child at only 3lbs, should have been in hospital from the moment it was born. No excuse for a first time parent, as this type of low weight is far far far below average. It may have ben thier choice not to see a Dr. But what about the child...does it have no rights to proper medical opinion. I feel they should have put their own thought to one side, and just at least taken advice earlier, be it from the medical proffession, research online or clasic text book stuff. What about common sense? An innocent child starved because they did NOT accept any other point of view. That does not feel like nervous first time parents trying to do heir best to me. Paulabxx

Incognito said...

No, thank you, PETER! I'm sure he won't get life! And that's what I think is unfair.

Hey PAULABXX: I agree, it's ignorance, but frankly, never having had a child I wouldn't know what a 6 week old baby should weigh, esp. if it was premature. And yes, they should have taken it to a doctor, but there are many people of different religious faiths who do not believe in doctors. I don't because I don't have faith in western medicine. Hindsight is 20 20. I'm sure there are many things we all seriously regret. What about the parents who forget their children in cars in 90 degree weather for 8 hours. I think to myself, how could someone forget a child in a car, but it has happened.. many, many times and children die, and parents get off with probation.

The point of my post was that I think the sentence was excessive, considering the circumstances. :-)
Not everyone agrees, and that's fine. But I will stick to my guns.

WomanHonorThyself said...

wow hun...interesting read for sure!..I know most jump to conclusions about vegetarians..not I..but ..this case is confusing and well..I'm undecided hun.
thanks for sharing!

lizze said...

The emotions have overridden the logic in this case as for the sentence ... as a baby is involved. This is only a likely explanation and certainly not an excuse.

As you point out, this sentence is not the right proportion compared to paedophiles as they are getting away most things. In their case, there is only one sentence that should they be punished by: the most severe one. This couple did show that they cared enough to take the baby to the hospital as they were concerned for its wellbeing.

And totally inappropriately in this context, I giggled at your comment “every Vegan I know looks malnourished” I second that statement.

Incognito said...

Hey Angel, I agree it is confusing...but people are assuming they intentionally starved the child... but what *if* they really did not mean to harm the child? Then what? How many people have been placed on death row for something they didn't do, with judges and juries and witnesses convinced of their guilt.
Something to ponder.

They do, Lizze, for the most part. :-) If you think that most people are overweight, you might not think your child has a problem.. Doesn't excuse them for not getting proper guidance re. child rearing. If they had they would have discovered apple juice is not a good thing to give a newborn. But I certainly wouldn't have known.

PaulaBXX said...

Hey Inc, you've got me going on this one! I could not agree more about the severity of the sentance, as I said, it does not make sense??? Was there more to it?? BUT I really belive that with 9 monhs to 'panic' (!) about imepnding new baby, it is almost impossible not to read, notice, think about birth weights, care, nutrition. You would really have to have your head stuck in the sand and be virtually ignoring any information. They had a home birth, perhaps there was NO antenatal care what so ever? I dont know about in the States, but here once you are registered pregnant there is no advoiding medical advice, whether youo like it or not.;-)). Yes there's a balance between no intervention for personal reasons, and putting the child first, when quite frankly they didn't have a clue. They had a resonsibility to care for that child...and that means absorbing information wanted or not, and doing the right thing. You are right....there is No instruction manual with children, but that does not mean 'making it up as you go along'. Information is SO accessible in this day and age. But LIFE for already devastated parents, who have suffered such a loss is very harsh.Just my opinion. PaulaBxx

Frasypoo said...

Well I had to add this.I dont think being vegan is part of the issue.Indian babies are vegan for a while,they are fed milk,juice,mashed veggies(where appropriate).We dont have any baby foods other than something called Cerelac which is added to milk/water.Indian babies are smaller than babies from other countries but as a race we are smaller people so it could be attributed to that.Maybe they did not realise that the baby was not getting enough nourishment.I dont believe in that apple juice theory because I know for a fact Indian babies drink that all the time.Who knows what happened but i agree it was a harsh sentence.

Incognito said...

Peter, looks like I said no thank you.. .what I meant was no, thank YOU! Thank you! :-)

:-) PAULA. I don't think anyone will know, unless they were at the trial, but I honestly think there are people who have no clue. This might have beena religious decision. Who knows. Again, as I have no children, I'm not sure what the procedure is as far as educating pregnant women. I don't think you have to register here, because there are people who have given birth to babies and no-one even knew they were pregnant. Things might be different in the U.K. I told you, you're a lot more progressive there, in terms of health issues etc. It's wonderful. Homeopathy, for example.

And I agree, they had a responsibility and were to afraid or ignorant to know better. Doesn't excuse their actions, but still, some punishment, but not a life sentence. Exactly, I'm sure they are heartbroken.

Incognito said...

Babies or newborns Frasypoo? And do you feed a 6 week old solid food, like mashed veggies? I have no clue.

I think I might think differently if the baby had been 6 months old when it died.

At 6 weeks old, if they hadn't wanted the child, surely it would have been easier for them to have aborted him or given him up for adoption, rather than starve him to death. Just doesn't make sense.

Frasypoo said...

Like I said when appropriate! I dont know at what time babies move onto solid food etc not having any kids.
Also I was wondering about this,Are' nt babies supposed to go to the pediatrician for regular visits ?So did the pediatrician not notice ?If the parents were poor,they probably were on Peachcare for kids which is for lower income groups.
Its a sad situation.Especially when there are crazies running around and these poor people are sentenced to life

Frasypoo said...

Also,when you talked about using alternative medicines did you mean Homeopathy ?I used homeopathy for my migraines since I was 13 and it worked great.It costs an arm and a leg here so I get on a long distance call with my Indian homeopath and my mom mails me my meds.
Please do a post on health care,its sad when a lot of us cannot afford health care here

Incognito said...

Me neither, Frasypoo. Yeah I think they are, but I'm assuming they didn't. I think they mentioned something about not wanting to take the baby to the hospital because of germs.

I actually don't use homeopathy, but I know it's very good. I'm on herbs and supplements. I also have used Acupuncture in the past, as well. I swear by it. That's sweet of your mum, doesn't it wind up costing the same with postage. Health care.. it's a problem, but I think many health problems are preventable through good diet, exercise etc. And the problem with western medicine is it's emphasis on symptoms rather than looking at the whole body, mind, spirit connection.

Frasypoo said...

True about what you said concerning western Medicine,My husband is a small business owner and we cannot afford healthcare.Luckily we have found dentists and doctors who dont charge a lot.Also by Gods grace both of us are healthy and have not needed anything serious.
About homeopathy meds sent to me,its not much costs about $35 per parcel and about $3-4 for medicine!

Incognito said...

Preventative medicine (good nutrition, exercise etc) is very important for good health, so as long as you do that, you can keep well. That's an amazing price! Is it homeopathy Frasypoo or Ayurvedic meds? The Chinese and Indians are heads above the rest of the world when it comes to herbal medicine.
I order all my herbs from (the link on my site) and from Vitacost is a little cheaper but they don't have one brand I buy. But I have a ton of stuff I buy, so it's worth mailordering. Much cheaper than the health food stores.

Frasypoo said...

Its homeopathy,meds are tiny little balls of something!My husband says it maybe little rabbit turds for all I know !!!But it helps,now I get migraines once a year only and usually the triggers are extreme stress.

Incognito said...

Yup, tiny little balls are homeopathy. As long as it helps.. that's all that matters.