Lawyer calls for review of ‘rigid’ baby death law

A young woman faces at least 10 years in prison after a judge refused Tuesday to set aside a jury’s verdict of second-degree murder for killing her newborn baby.

A young woman faces at least 10 years in prison after a judge refused Tuesday to set aside a jury’s verdict of second-degree murder for killing her newborn baby.

And while the Crown made no apologies for prosecuting Katrina Effert on that charge, both lawyers suggested current murder laws may be too rigid in such cases.

“Is it time for a review? My personal opinion is that it is,” said prosecutor John LaLuk after an emotional morning in court in which Queen’s Bench Justice Joanne Veit’s words were nearly inaudible over the sobs of Effert’s parents.

Effert was convicted Saturday by jurors who accepted the Crown’s argument that she knew what she was doing when she gave birth in her parents’ basement in Wetaskiwin, south of Edmonton, strangled the baby with her underwear and then threw the tiny corpse over a fence into the neighbour’s yard.

It was the second time a jury had found Effert guilty of second-degree murder. Her original conviction was thrown out by the Alberta Court of Appeal because of how the original trial judge charged the jury.

Effert’s lawyer, Peter Royal, called the most-recent verdict “perverse,” pointing out that the jury had ignored all expert medical testimony that suggested Effert’s mind was disturbed as a result of the birth.

He asked Veit to declare a mistrial.

“The application from the defence has a great deal of merit and substance,” Veit said in court.

But she added that overturning the verdict of a jury in a case she had just presided over would leave her open to charges that she was incapable of viewing the case objectively.

The best place to fix an unjust verdict is in Appeal Court, she said.

And an appeal is coming, said Royal.

Co-prosecutor Rob Robbenhaar said he had no doubt that Effert acted with intent. However, the inflexibility of sentencing for second-degree murder points to the need for reform.

“Parliament should introduce a diminished responsibility manslaughter,” he said.

Robbenhaar has a point, said Steven Penney, a University of Alberta law professor.

“If you could have a more flexible sentencing regime, you probably wouldn’t have a need for infanticide,” he said.

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