Updated 23 September 2015

Mom found guilty of killing 5-year-old son with salt

A mother accused of killing her son by giving him salt through a feeding tube has been found guilty and faces life imprisonment.


A New York mother accused of poisoning her son with salt so she could bask in social media attention after documenting his mysterious illness online was convicted of murder.

A jury in state court in White Plains, New York, found Lacey Spears, 27, guilty of murder in the 2014 death of 5-year-old Garnett-Paul Spears, District Attorney Janet DiFiore said in a statement, reported Reuters.

The single mom, who was sharing her son's hospital room, allegedly fed him salt through a hospital tube. This is believed to have triggered a rise in his sodium levels that led to seizures, brain swelling and eventually Garnett-Paul's death.

“Throughout his five years, Garnett Spears was forced to suffer through repeated hospitalisations, unneeded surgical procedures and ultimately poisoning with salt, all at the hands of the one person who should have been his ultimate protector: his mother," DiFiore said.

Read: How a mom allegedly killed her son with salt

"Using the child’s 'illnesses' to self aggrandise herself, her actions directly lead to her son’s tortured death," DiFiore said in the statement.

Assistant District Attorney Patricia Murphy said in closing arguments that Spears apparently craved the attention of her family, friends, co-workers and in particularly the medical profession, according to Fox News.

She suggested that Spears killed her son because she feared he would expose her actions of making him ill.

The mother faces a maximum prison term of 25 years to life in prison when she is sentenced on April 8.

Prosecutors said the sick boy was rushed on January 19 2014, to Nyack Hospital, where he was found to have a dangerously high level of sodium in his blood with no medical explanation for it. He was later airlifted to Westchester Medical Center, where he died on January 23 2014.

Image: Lacey Spears wipes tears from her eyes as the prosecutor addresses the court during the opening statements portion of her murder trial. (AP/The Journal-News, Joe Larese)

Evidence seized from the family home included "feeding bags containing extraordinary amounts of sodium", the prosecutor said in the statement.

One bag had the equivalent of 69 McDonald's salt packets in it, a forensic toxicologist testified, reported Fox News.

Footage also showed Lacey twice taking Garnett into a hospital bathroom with a connector tube and the boy suffering afterwards, reported Sky New.

Stephen Riebling, an attorney for Spears questioned this footage. 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 said Spears was innocent and blamed the hospital for negligence. However, ABC news reported that prosecutors said there was no explanation other than the mother’s deliberate introduction of salt into his feeding tube.

Why too much salt is dangerous

Health24 resident doctor Heidi van Deventer confirmed that too much salt is very dangerous and can indeed cause death: "Usually, too much salt (sodium) is caused by too little fluid in the body (dehydration) and not by excessive amounts of salt in the body."

She said the medical term referred to this is hypernatraemia.

"The mechanism to counteract a high sodium level is thirst. So somehow the mother likely gave him fluids with high sodium content and restricted his fluid intake."

Van Deventer said the fluids would most likely have been intravenous or through a nasogastric tube, because drinking fluids with a high sodium content would make one vomit immediately.

Read: Social Media can be a main cause of Munchausen by proxy

What the underlying problem could be

Van Deventer told Health24 that the mother may have been suffering from Munchausen syndrome by proxy. "This is when a parent or caregiver fabricates or creates illness in his/her child to draw attention to them. It seems as if this could have been the case."

There was no mention at the trial of a disorder known as Munchausen by proxy.

Read in the expert forumThis mother is overmedicating her children 

When Garnett-Paul passed on, Spears tweeted: "Garnett the great journeyed onward today at 10:20 am", according to AP.

Read: Munchausen vs. Munchausen by proxy

Here are some social media posts from accounts with the name Lacy Spears:

These are some tweets:

In this image from MySpace. Here Garnett-Paul is pictured with his mom at work.

This picture is from Spears' blog entitled "Garnett's Journey".

This image from MySpace is captioned "Mommy, I feel bad and my belly hurts."Itis from the album titled "Garnett's Hospital Stay".It seems the album contains pictures from all his hospital visits.

Here is a blog post about Garnett-Paul asking about his father, who is reportedly dead.

Also read:

SA’s rising temperatures raise mental health concerns
Toddler foods loaded with salt and sugar
Sensitivity to salt puts black South Africans at stroke risk


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