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Child Murder Committed by Severely Mentally Ill Mothers: An Examination of Mothers Found Not Guilty by Reason of Insanity

NCJ Number
Journal of Forensic Sciences Volume: 50 Issue: 6 Dated: November 2005 Pages: 1466-1471
Susan Hatters Friedman M.D.; Debra R. Hrouda MSSA; Carol E. Holden Ph.D.; Stephen G. Noffsinger M.D.; Phillip J. Resnick M.D.
Date Published
November 2005
6 pages
This study analyzed the hospital records of 39 severely mentally ill mothers adjudicated not-guilty-by-reason-of-insanity for filicide (child murder by parents) in Ohio and Michigan, in order to identify characteristics that preceded the murder and to suggest prevention strategies.
Hospital records were evaluated for eight subgroups of factors: demographics, child and family characteristics, maternal mental illness characteristics, maternal developmental/psychosocial characteristics, legal history, substance history, maternal medical and reproductive history, and offense characteristics. Seventy-two percent of the mothers had previous mental health treatment; 69 percent were experiencing auditory hallucinations, most often command hallucinations; and 49 percent were depressed at the time of the offense. Thirty-eight percent of the filicides occurred during pregnancy or the postpartum period, and many had a history of postpartum psychosis. Seventy-two percent of the mothers had experienced considerable developmental stressors, such as the death of their own mother or incest. Maternal motives for filicide were predominantly "altruistic" (murder out of love) or "acutely psychotic" (occurring in the throes of psychosis, without rational motive). Most of the mothers had no prior criminal history. These findings support the recommendation of other researchers that maternal fears of harming the children and delusions about the children suffering are indications for psychiatric hospitalization. 1 table and 38 references


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