Toronto Star

November 27, 1999

Woman who tried to kill child awaits fate

Mercy or murder debate reopened by her attempt to take disabled daughter's life

By Michelle Shephard
Toronto Star Crime Reporter

There was never any doubt of guilt.

After delivering the near-lethal dose of medication in her daughter's feeding tube she waited, holding her little girl until she no longer felt a pulse. Then she went to the police.

``I just murdered my own daughter,'' Lisa Thompson said at the Niagara Region police station. Emergency workers rushed to her home and Thompson was arrested.

Now the question is what will she get for her crime? Thompson's daughter Brandy Lee, was revived Nov. 8, 1998, and this September the 37-year-old mother pleaded guilty to attempted murder. She is to be sentenced in a Welland court Tuesday.

Her case has again sparked the fierce debate surrounding parents who murder or attempt to kill their disabled children and the punishment they receive. A mercy killing, deserving of a lenient sentence, is what one side labels the crime. The other side says murder is murder.

``If the charter protects all of us equally, then judgments with lenient sentencing terms are dangerous because they say that the law is not equal for people with disabilities,'' said Traci Walters, national director of the Canadian Association of Independent Living Centres.

She points to past high-profile cases with varying outcomes that can be compared to Thompson's sad saga.

Perhaps the best known one is that of Robert Latimer, the Saskatchewan father who was convicted of killing his daughter Tracy in 1993. His case will reach the Supreme Court of Canada next year.

Twelve-year-old Tracy had a severe form of cerebral palsy and could not walk, talk or feed herself.

She underwent several operations and was facing more surgery in 1993 when Latimer placed her in the cab of his pickup truck and piped in deadly carbon monoxide fumes.

The next year he was convicted of second-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison with eligibility for parole in 10 years. In 1997, a Saskatchewan judge granted Latimer a rare constitutional exemption from a life sentence for murder and instead sentenced him to two years less a day.

Just 19 days after Latimer was first convicted, Cathie Wilkieson was found dead in the garage of her parents' Hamilton home cradling her 16-year-old disabled son. In her suicide note the 43-year-old mother said she was too tired to go on but could not leave behind her son, who had cerebral palsy and was partly deaf and blind.

Two years later in November, 1996, 44-year-old Montreal mother Danielle Blais slit her wrists after drowning her 6-year-old autistic son Charles-Antoine. She survived, but had written in a suicide note that she was frustrated with getting school authorities to understand the boy's condition. After pleading guilty to manslaughter she received a 23-month suspended sentence, not having to serve time in jail.

Brandy Lee was Thompson's fourth and youngest child. The baby was born three months premature and spent her first three years in hospital. Doctors said they did not expect her to live, a court was told during her trial.

Thompson said she knew she was getting depressed and anxious about looking after her daughter, while as a single mother still caring for her other three children aged 8, 11 and 15.

The day before she tried to kill Brandy Lee, Thompson called Family and Children's Services to talk with a worker about putting her daughter in respite care. Later she called a crisis hotline.

Family members stayed with her that night and she took medication to sleep.

On Nov. 8, she woke, washed her daughter and asked her mother to go out and get a coffee. Then she poured a variety of dissolved medications in the girl's feeding tube and held her until leaving for the police station.

``She repeated to me what she told the civilian clerk at the front desk,'' said Niagara Region Detective Sergeant Mike Gamble in an interview this week. ``She said, `I just murdered my own daughter.' ''

She was immediately put under arrest. Emergency workers were able to revive the little girl and Gamble said she has recovered fully from the drugging.

``I've said it before and I say it now. Lisa Thompson loves her daughter very much, and that was evident to me,'' Gamble said. ``As much sympathy as I have for her, in my profession and in criminal law it doesn't matter, my feelings don't matter.''

Comments like these enrage groups advocating for the disabled. ``There's no conceivable way you can talk about love in that context,'' said Mel Graham, spokesperson for the Council of Canadians with Disabilities. ``Love is about nurturing and being there.''

Thompson's brother, Terry Philips, said this week that he wanted to wait until the sentencing to speak about his sister. In the past, with his father, he has spoken publicly about Thompson's love for her youngest child and her struggles with her care.

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