Tuesday, 11 December 2007

Mum faces death penalty

Dec 8 2007 by Paul James, The Journal

THE mother of two North children could face the death penalty for smothering them to death after becoming convinced they were possessed by a demon.

American Meghan Lippiatt, 32, admits killing two-year-old Silas and his four-month-old brother Miles in 2004, weeks after they were taken from her after a five-hour standoff with police at Newcastle Airport.

Prosecutors in Pennsylvania, where the killings happened, are now pressing for her to be convicted of first-degree murder, which is punishable with lethal injection.

But Lippiatt’s defence team is arguing she is not guilty by reason of insanity.

Lippiatt met her husband Daniel, the son of a Newcastle vicar, in Carlisle in 2000 and they lived for a time at Brampton in Cumbria.

Last night, closing arguments were heard in the three-day trial and Lancaster County Judge James Cullen is due to deliver a verdict on Monday.

Lippiatt, who elected trial without jury, sobbed in the Lancaster County Courthouse as assistant district attorney Kelly Sekula described how she had methodically killed her two children at her parents’ home on April 18, 2004.

Ms Sekula told the judge that two months before the boys died, when the family were living in England, Lippiatt had called 999 to say voices were telling her to harm her children.

Three days later, Lippiatt tried to fly with them to the US from Newcastle Airport, but had an emotional breakdown and locked herself and the children in a car until police intervened and she was taken to hospital.

Her parents John and Susan Kelleher took the children to the US, where she had previously lived with Daniel, whose father Michael Lippiatt was a vicar at Holy Trinity Church in Jesmond for 20 years before retiring through ill health.

Lippiatt killed the boys on the first day she was left alone with them.

She first suffocated baby Miles with a nappy because she knew he would not put up a fight, it was said.

She then used zip ties to fasten Silas’s hands together and told him to get into the bath. Before she killed him, she pulled his head back above water and told him she loved him.

Afterwards she dialled 911, and a recording of the call was played to the trial.

In it she said: “I just did something really, really bad. I just killed my kids.” She then tells the dispatcher that she has swallowed a bottle of painkillers.

Dr Neil Blumberg told the judge Lippiatt described the voices in her head as becoming “dark and sinister, more commanding, more persistent”.

She became convinced “her children were possessed by a demon,” he said, and “that she was possessed and the only way to save all of them was to end their lives”.

Dr Blumberg said Lippiatt’s mental illness remained so severe it exceeded the standard for a conviction of guilty, but mentally ill. He had suggested to her that her mental illness could be used in her defence.

“At that time, she was not interested in defence,’’ Dr Blumberg said. “She wanted the death penalty.”

Before the trial started on Wednesday, Ms Sekula told the judge she had not decided whether to seek the death penalty if Lippiatt was convicted of first-degree murder.

A verdict of guilty but mentally ill means the convicted person is placed in hospital until they are well enough to go to prison to complete the sentence.

To see how this story broke in The Journal in 2004, click the links below

Double murder charge

Murder-charge mother may never stand trial

Children's murder accused mother due in court

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Events foreshadowed end of two children’s lives

MEGHAN Lippiatt met husband Daniel in Carlisle in 2000 and was married to him in Pennsylvania the following year, before they returned to Cumbria in 2003.

Silas and Cumbrian-born Miles, had spent time living with their grandparents, members of Carlisle’s Hebron Evangelical Church.

Lippiatt gave birth to her second son in January 2004, but on February 6 she vanished from a psychiatric ward at Newcastle General Hospital. She was found three days later and went home.

But a few weeks later, she took the boys to live with her parents John and Susan Kelleher in the East Donegal Township of Lancaster County. That April, she called 911 and said: “I just did something really, really bad. I just killed my kids.”

Police found the bodies and discovered their mother had tried to kill herself with painkillers. She left a note which read: “I am sorry, I didn’t want to hurt anyone. I am sorry, goodbye, please help me from the grave.”

Defence attorney James Gratton said that in January 2004, Lippiatt was found wandering in Westerhope, Newcastle, with her children.

She said she had walked there as its name contained the word hope and she had been guided by a spirit.

A month later, she was diagnosed with psychosis and post-natal depression after telling doctors she heard voices telling her to harm her children. Her father took the boys to America, but she followed on March 19.

At first, her parents would not leave her with her sons. But on April 18, they did.

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