Woman's sentencing on child-abuse charges set for September
A Dartmouth woman’s sentencing on charges of abusing one of her foster children has been put off until September while she undergoes a new psychiatric assessment.
Susan Elizabeth MacDonnell starved the girl for an extended period of time and then tampered with her feeding tube at the IWK Health Centre in Halifax, where she was being treated for dehydration and malnutrition in early 2010, before her second birthday.
MacDonnell, 44, pleaded guilty last year to aggravated assault and failing to provide the necessities of life.
She was supposed to be sentenced in Nova Scotia Supreme Court in Halifax last month, but Justice Kevin Coady said her actions appeared to be so out of character that he needed more psychiatric information on her.
On Tuesday, lawyers told the judge that the assessment will be conducted by Dr. Brad Kelln, a forensic psychologist in Halifax.
Coady scheduled the sentencing hearing for three days beginning Sept. 24.
The Crown wants a five-year prison sentence for MacDonnell, who has no previous criminal record. The defence is recommending two years behind bars, followed by three years’ probation.
MacDonnell and her husband fostered 30 children over 13 years and adopted several kids.
Crown attorney Catherine Cogswell said she will provide the psychologist with everything she has in her file on MacDonnell, including Community Services Department records detailing the theft of money from a foster parents program.
“When confronted about stealing it, she essentially lied to the Department of Community Services and said she had cancer, her father had cancer and something else of that nature,” the prosecutor said.
“It turned out to be false, that she just used the extra money for some extra household expenses. So she had stolen and then made a story up to explain her behaviour.”
Cogswell said she plans to call evidence about the theft, which was never reported to police, at the sentencing hearing in an attempt to delve into MacDonnell’s character.
“There are some other examples that I’m looking at in the file to see if we’re going to be able to call evidence,” she said.
“Justice Coady asked for a more fulsome psychiatric review. From that perspective, the Crown is more than happy and willing to co-operate, but there are certain issues that we want brought forward.”
MacDonnell was arrested in June 2010 and remanded for a psychiatric assessment. A doctor said she was fit to stand trial and was not suffering from any mental disorder at the time of the offences that would have made her not criminally responsible.
She remains free on a $5,000 recognizance, with conditions that she not have any contact with children, consume alcohol or drugs or possess any weapons.
The girl, now four, has been adopted by another family and is said to be doing well. Other foster children were also removed from MacDonnell’s home.