Suspected child abuser gets midnight psychiatric evaluation

Law expert: Even if diagnosed with mental disorder, she may still have to stand trial.

By ETGAR LEFKOVITS
July 21, 2009 22:08
3 minute read.
Suspected child abuser gets midnight psychiatric evaluation

Jerusalem child starver 248.88. (photo credit: Channel 2)

 
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Ending days of drama, a woman suspected of abusing her child underwent a late-night psychiatric evaluation to help determine whether she was fit to stand trial, police said Tuesday. The woman, who is accused of nearly starving her three-year-old son to death, arrived at the psychiatrist's Jerusalem clinic at about midnight, after a court ordered her earlier in the evening to take the test within 24 hours. The examination was carried out at the private clinic of Dr. Yaakov Weill in the city's Arnona neighborhood, and not at the Mea Shearim home where the woman is under house arrest, in an apparent attempt to avoid media coverage. Weill, who was selected to carry out the test by agreement with both the police and the woman's lawyers, said Tuesday that he would need another meeting or two with the woman before issuing his professional opinion in the case, but added that he could not force her to meet with him again. The move came a day after the woman skipped a previously scheduled court-ordered evaluation, citing ill health. The court placed the woman under house arrest last week on condition that she take the exam, and her refusal to carry it out put that agreement in jeopardy. The psychiatric evaluation will help determine whether the woman is fit to stand trial, and whether she poses a threat to herself or her surroundings, police said. The woman, a Mea Shearim resident and a member of an extremist haredi sect, is believed to be suffering from Munchausen's-by-proxy, a psychiatric disorder in which a person deliberately abuses someone, typically a child, to draw attention to or sympathy for themselves. The mother, who is five months pregnant, is suspected of severely abusing her child for two years, until he weighed a mere 7 kilograms. The woman showed up for the examination despite pressure from some members of the extremist Eda Haredit organization not to do so until she was allowed to meet with her children, or until her child was removed from Jerusalem's Hadassah-University Medical Center at Ein Kerem. The doctors at Hadassah were the first to suspect the abuse, drawing the wrath of Eda Haredit leaders. Even if the psychiatrist diagnoses the woman as suffering from Munchausen's, she will still have to stand trial if charges are levied against her, according to Limor Etzioni, who teaches at the Sha'arei Hamishpat College of Law in Hod Hasharon. "The penal law is very clear about the fact that a person must be insane and therefore not able to distinguish between right and wrong in order to avoid standing trial," Etzioni told The Jerusalem Post. "This is not the case here." According to Article 34H of the law, "no person shall bear criminal responsibility for an act committed by him, if, at the time the act was committed, because of a disease that adversely affected his spirit or because of a mental impediment, he lacked any real ability to understand what he did or the wrongful nature of his act, or abstain from committing the act." Meanwhile, authorities are still seeking to question the woman's other four children as per a previous agreement reached with their father, Jerusalem Police spokesman Shmuel Ben-Ruby said Tuesday. Police investigators have said they want to pursue suspicions that the woman may have abused two of her other children as well. Separately, Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch told a special Knesset hearing that 110 haredim had been arrested last week for allegedly taking part in violent protests, and that police had opened criminal files against 40 of them. The protests have ebbed since the woman was released from police detention on Friday. Dan Izenberg contributed to this report.

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