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!