A Dartmouth woman who admitted to nearly starving her child to death was handed a two-year prison sentence on Friday.
After Supreme Court Justice Kevin Coady read his decision Susan Elizabeth MacDonnell, 44, dropped her head and dabbed her eye with a tissue.
MacDonnell had already pleaded guilty to aggravated assault and failing to provide the necessities of life for her then 22-month-old daughter, Rachel, in 2010.
“Either way you cut it, Mrs. MacDonnell is a very sick women,” said Coady.
Coady opted to go with the defence’s recommended sentence, which includes a three-year probation period after her prison term is completed. The Crown recommended a five-year prison term.
Crown attorney Catherine Cogswell disagreed with the sentence, citing a psychiatric assessment produced in the case that she said proved MacDonnell suffers from a personality disorder, which she argued is not a mental illness.
“She used her façade as a super mom to almost kill a child,” said an emotional Cogswell. “Compassion is important for everybody. The vast majority of the public would like to see the compassion for the child.”
Rachel had been admitted to the IWK Health Centre in March 2010 suffering from dehydration and malnutrition. MacDonnell admitted to disconnecting the child’s feeding tube in the hospital and to diluting a high glucose formula at least six times.
Coady cited several reasons why he chose a shorter prison term, including that MacDonnell had been considered a ‘super mom’ in the foster family world, had no previous criminal record and that she had been making progress with her rehabilitation.
“I’m not suggesting that she not be held accountable but people would see this as a special case and a carefully crafted sentence and while they would like to see the book thrown at truly violent and dangerous offenders, I do not feel like they would feel the same way for Mrs. MacDonnell,” said Coady.
“People are outraged,” she said. “I have had foster parents call me, I’ve had parents call me and strangers stop me on the street. Everybody’s absolutely shocked.”
The child, now four-years-old, is reportedly healthy with her adopted family.
Andrew Rankin/Metro Halifax.