Toronto Star

December 1, 1999

No jail for failed mercy killer

By Michelle Shephard
Toronto Star Crime Reporter

WELLAND - A mother who attempted to kill her 6-year-old disabled daughter will serve her criminal sentence at home, enraging advocates who say the lenient sentence diminishes the crime.

Lisa Thompson, of Niagara Falls, walked out of the Superior Court of Justice here yesterday with her mother and brother supporting her on either side, saying she was delighted she won't be incarcerated but the sentence she has given herself is far worse than any punishment a court could impose.

``I'm so relieved this part of it is over, but what happened in my life will be with me forever. I think that's my own sentencing of myself, every day when I look in the mirror and know what I've done and how it has affected everyone that I love,'' Thompson told reporters.

Mr. Justice Paul Forestell said that when deliberating Thompson's sentence he took into consideration the amount of stress the single mother was under at the time of the crime, that she sought - but was denied - crisis intervention, and her evident remorse. He imposed a conditional sentence of two years less a day, with three years' probation.

Forestell stipulated that Thompson is not allowed to be unsupervised when visiting with her daughter Brandy, who the crown said is now in foster care and ``flourishing.''

``This is such a disturbing trend in sentencing,'' said Traci Walters, national director of the Canadian Association of Independent Living Centres.

``The courts are sending a message that this is okay to do and that it's less of a crime because disabled people are less of a person.''

Next year, the Supreme Court of Canada will hear Canada's best-known case involving a parent killing a disabled child.

Saskatchewan farmer Robert Latimer was convicted of killing his 12-year-old daughter, Tracy, in 1993. He placed the girl, who had a severe form of cerebral palsy and could not walk, talk or feed herself, in the cab of his pickup truck and piped in deadly carbon monoxide fumes.

The Supreme Court will consider whether Latimer should serve the minimum 10 years before parole or whether, in exceptional cases, such a term is ``cruel and unusual punishment'' and contrary to the Charter of Rights, as was first ruled.

In a similar case to Thompson's, Montreal mother Danielle Blais received a lenient court sentence in 1996 after drowning her 6-year-old autistic son, Charles-Antoine. She survived her suicide attempt and, after pleading guilty to manslaughter, received a 23-month suspended sentence, without having to serve time in jail.

``Our concern around this issue since the Robert Latimer murder of his daughter and other cases is the public support of what he and others have done,'' said Laurie Beachell, national co-ordinator of the Council of Canadians with Disabilities. ``We think people with disabilities are vulnerable and need protection.''

Forestell began his sentencing yesterday by stating: ``The court has the greatest respect for persons with physical handicaps and delays . . . and their need for protection.''

He later added: ``There is also a consideration that must be given to caregivers of the handicapped.''

``The sentence has to be fair and just,'' said Catherine Frazee, former chief commissioner of the Ontario Human Rights Commission, when told last night of the case's outcome.

``It doesn't mean we have to demonize the mother . . . but the court does have to absolutely be clear in its defence of the child.''

Thompson tried to kill her daughter on the morning of Nov. 8, 1998, by putting a near-lethal dose of medication in Brandy's feeding tube and lying down, holding her little girl until she no longer felt a pulse.

She then went to the Niagara Region police station and stated: ``I just murdered my own daughter.''

Emergency workers who rushed to Thompson's home as the 37-year-old mother was taken into custody were able to revive her daughter. Brandy, who in addition to cerebral palsy has a visual impairment and bowel disorders, among other ailments, recovered fully. Her general health has improved, Crown Attorney Alan Root said yesterday.

Entered in court at the sentencing hearing was a rose-coloured photo album filled with pictures of a smiling Brandy taken while she was in the care of her foster family.

The court was told that the Saturday night before Thompson tried to kill her daughter, she called a crisis nurse at the Niagara General Hospital and a worker with Family and Children's Services for help.

``On Saturday she turned for help,'' Charles Ryall, Thompson's lawyer, told the court yesterday. ``She was running on empty.''

Ryall said Thompson was told she could get help the following Monday.

Thompson dabbed her eyes and later cried in the prisoner's dock in court, her shoulders shaking, as Ryall described how she loved her daughter and three sons, aged 8, 11 and 15.

``No matter what anybody out there thinks, there is not a mother in the world that loves her children like she loves hers,'' Thompson's mother, Geraldine Philips, said outside the court.

Contents copyright © 1996-1999, The Toronto Star.