London Free Press

Thursday, March 22, 2001

Poisoned girl's mom faces mental exam

London Free Press

MONTREAL --  A woman described by a neighbour as a "devoted" mother was ordered yesterday to undergo a psychiatric exam to determine if she's fit to be tried on a charge of first-degree murder in the death of her handicapped daughter.

Seated at the end of a row of burly, shaven-headed defendants in the prisoner's dock at arraignment court, Rachel Capra Craig looked deeply sad and drawn as lawyers discussed her case.

The 46-year-old Craig, who wore a red sweater and sat with her hands manacled in front of her, entered no plea and will return to court April 4. She often averted her eyes to the floor.

Craig is accused of killing her daughter Chelsea, 14, on Monday.

Police said the teen, who suffered from Rett's syndrome, died after consuming a "poison cocktail" and that the mother had ingested the same drink. She was treated in hospital and released to police.

Unlike with the other prisoners, the attitude of the court seemed to soften when the tiny, dark-haired Craig stood to face the proceeding and Quebec Court Judge Michele Toupin gently told her she could sit.

It was not the only place protectiveness shelterered Craig and her family.

Administrators at Chelsea's school didn't want photographs taken of a poster in the building's entrance expressing sympathy for the girl's death and didn't want students interviewed.

Neighbours were equally protective, telling reporters to find out why the parents of handicapped children don't get more help.

One neighbour described a loving family dealing with the challenges of having a daughter with a debilitating genetic disease.

"She couldn't communicate," the elderly man said of Chelsea. "She was badly handicapped. She wasn't able to look after herself. She had to be fed so it was a real chore to look after her."

The man, who said he spoke frequently to Rachel Craig, described her as "a very nice lady and very devoted to the child."

He said he used to see Chelsea being picked up by the school bus and he had the family as guests at his summer cottage last year.

"They were always nice to talk to but as far as I know they didn't entertain or go out very much."

Chelsea didn't play with other children, he said. "She was very shy. They had a trampoline there and her father used to swing her back and forth on the swing."

The man said he never sensed the family was overwhelmed or that something was wrong.

"The mother was very protective and I guess the child needed that," he recalled. "Any time you saw them the child was sort of clinging to the mother, although she could walk by herself.

"This was such a shock. I first realized something was wrong when I happened to look out the upstairs window and I saw a truck out there with flashing lights."

Dick Sobsey, who trains teachers to work with disabled kids, has spent 15 years tracking cases of handicapped children who have died in their parents' care.

There have been about 50 such cases in Canada since the 1970s, he said. "In many cases, these do not get to court."

Sobsey said parents or caregivers who are prosecuted can receive light sentences.

"There's kind of sympathy for someone who says, 'I was under terrible stress and I wasn't getting the support I need.' Often people are allowed to plead guilty to a lesser charge."

Copyright (c) 2001 The London Free Press,