Mom who drowned her son not criminally responsible
EDMONTON — Florentino Jajoy says he doesn’t have to forgive his wife for drowning their seven-year-old son in a bathtub because her mental illness is the only one to blame.
Jajoy told reporters outside Edmonton’s courthouse Friday that he supports his wife and hopes she gets the help she needs now that she won’t be going to prison.
“I really feel really sad because everything happened,” the Colombian refugee said in broken English.
“I’m going to stay by her side. But my focus right now is my daughter.”
On Friday, a judge found Nerlin Sarmiento not criminally responsible for drowning Omar Jajoy.
The 32-year-old woman admitted to the killing but pleaded not guilty to a charge of first-degree murder, arguing that she had a mental disorder at the time.
Two psychiatrists testified Sarmiento was having a major depressive episode as part of her bipolar disorder when she killed the boy at the family’s apartment earlier this year.
They said she had deluded herself into thinking the boy was better off in heaven.
Justice Sterling Sanderman said that while children “don’t anticipate betrayal” from their parents, Sarmiento was indeed sick.
“She didn’t appreciate the act was morally wrong,” he said. “She felt this was a proper thing to do — a righteous decision.”
He ordered Sarmiento be transferred to a psychiatric hospital and have a hearing before the Alberta Review Board within 45 days.
The board is to regularly review the woman’s mental health to determine if and when she is well enough to be released back into the community.
A court order preventing Sarmiento from contacting her 10-year-old daughter also remains in place until the board decides it’s no longer needed, said Crown prosecutor Kimberley Goddard.
Court had heard the woman had thoughts of killing both her children and once choked her daughter in a bedroom. She stopped when the girl questioned what she was doing.
Goddard didn’t oppose the defence’s insanity argument but said the medical evidence needed to be tested by a judge. Outside court, she talked about how it was a difficult case for everyone involved.
“The family has been torn apart. There was really nothing that could be done in this case that was going to change that or get that sense of justice. It was just really tragic.”
Medical reports entered into evidence show Sarmiento was admitted to hospital several times in the two years before she drowned her son.
As early as July 2011, she expressed “ideas regarding her safety and the safety of her children” to staff at the Royal Alexandra Hospital.
She also told her husband and mother that she was having dark thoughts about hurting her two children. In late 2012, her mother started spending nights at the family’s home to help look after the kids.
But on Feb. 12, after Sarmiento’s husband and mother had left for work, Sarmiento sent her 10-year-old daughter off to school and shoved Omar toward the bathroom. She pushed him into the tub and held his head under water for several minutes.
When he stopped moving, she called 911.
Sarmiento later told police she had thoughts of stabbing and smothering both children and, while at a downtown mall, fantasized about throwing them both over a third-floor railing.
The day before the drowning, she said she had tried to suffocate herself by wrapping a plastic bag over her head. She also tried to hang herself with a rope strung from a bedroom door.
Her husband has previously said that the medical care she received was “wrong” and the health system failed her. Jajoy said Friday that he hopes the Alberta government makes improvements to help the mentally ill.
“I don’t want this situation to happen anymore.”
Dr. Curtis Woods wrote in his report for the court that Sarmiento had a history of resisting oral medication and, at one point, was prescribed monthly drug injections. But she didn’t get the shot a month before the killing and did not take other drugs sent home with her by a doctor.
He testified that Sarmiento had delusional thoughts about being worthless and unable to provide new clothes and shoes for her children. She wanted to save her son from a life of poverty and suffering.
“Killing her son was an altruistic measure to spare him from the anticipated suffering and send him to a better place,” Woods said.
Although she knew killing her son was legally wrong, she truly believed she was doing what was best for him when she killed him, Woods said.
Dr. Vijay Singh also interviewed Sarmiento several times after the drowning and included portions of their conversations in his report to the court.
On one occasion, Sarmiento told the doctor: “I thought I did right because (Omar) did not have to deal with a difficult life.
“I thought he must die. He had no future, nothing good ... I thought I was saving the child.”
Singh said he is convinced the woman was motivated to kill her child by overwhelming despair and cannot be held criminally responsible.
“She felt morally obligated to complete the act with the perception that her son would end up in a better world called heaven and live happily ever after.”