Garnett Spears, 5, died Jan. 23, 2014. / Facebook photo provided courtesy of his family
WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. - Lacey Spears, a woman police said medically tortured her son for years and chronicled his illnesses on social media before fatally poisoning him, pleaded not guilty Tuesday to murder and manslaughter charges.
Spears, a 26-year-old Alabama native, surrendered to authorities earlier in the day to face charges of murdering her 5-year-old son, Garnett, by poisoning him with sodium. She was ordered held without bail at Westchester County jail and is due back in court July 2.
The only words Spears uttered in state Supreme Court were "Yes, sir," when Justice Barry Warhit asked if she was Lacey Spears.
Assistant District Attorney Doreen Lloyd presented the government's case, focusing on Spears' time at Nyack Hospital between Jan. 17 and 19 when, Lloyd said, the mother took Garnett into the hospital room's private bathroom and administered the sodium into a tube in the boy's stomach.
"This mother was intentionally feeding her son salt in toxic levels," Lloyd said.
Lloyd said prosecutors know from computer records that Spears had searched the Internet to research what the effects of salt would be on her son.
Earlier in the day, Spears' head was bowed as she walked into the back door of Westchester County Police headquarters, escorted by detectives. Her father, Terry, had his arm around her as she solemnly surrendered. After being processed - and having her mug shot taken - Spears left the headquarters silently, not answering reporters' questions before getting into the back of a black, unmarked police car and speeding off.
Acting on a sealed grand jury indictment, law enforcement on Tuesday obtained a warrant to arrest Spears for the Jan. 23 death of her son at Maria Fareri Children's Hospital in Valhalla, N.Y., sources said. The murder charge does not accuse her of intentionally killing her son but of acting with depraved indifference toward his life. Spears, 26, who had been staying with her parents in Kentucky, had returned to Westchester and was accompanied by her attorney, David Sachs.
The grand jury's vote concluded a two-week presentation from prosecutors, who based their case on months of investigation in New York, Florida and Alabama - where Spears and her son lived - and Tennessee, where they visited Vanderbilt University Hospital.
Capt. Christopher Calabrese, commander of the Westchester County Police Detective Division, said the investigation involved hundreds of interviews and the analysis of tens of thousands of pages of medical records by Westchester and Ramapo detectives and the Westchester County District Attorney's office.
"This is a very sad day for everyone, but it is a day for justice," Calabrese said. "Justice for the betrayal of the intimate trust between a mother and child, justice for a mother's continual abuse and death of her innocent child for her own selfish psychological needs and financial gain; justice for Garnett."
Authorities suspect the single mother, who was a constant presence on social media sharing stories of Garnett's medical crises, may have poisoned the little boy at least twice; once before he experienced seizures that sent him to Nyack Hospital Jan. 17 and again on Jan. 19 at Nyack when his sodium level spiked and he had to be flown to Valhalla.
Spears was living with Garnett in the secluded Fellowship Community in Chestnut Ridge, N.Y. - described on its website as a community centered on the care of the elderly where about 150 residents live in a rural setting of farm, woods and orchards about 30 miles northwest of New York City - when the alleged crime occurred.
As Garnett lay dying in the hospital, a Chestnut Ridge neighbor said Spears called and told her to dispose of a bag Spears used to feed the boy through a tube. Police later recovered the bag which had extremely high levels of sodium.
The homicide case may be one of the first involving Munchausen by proxy - a psychiatric disorder in which a parent sickens a child to garner sympathy - in the era of social media. Spears faces a maximum of 25 years to life in prison on the murder charge and up to 25 years for manslaughter.
The reaction in Spears' hometown of Decatur, Ala., was swift.
Former nurse Ginger Dabbs-Anderson, who first met Spears and Garnett when the boy was 6 months old, was grateful for the action, but remorseful that it came too late to save Garnett, who friends called "G."
"I'm happy they got her and I do believe that she's had this problem for years and that he's been suffering at her hands. I really wish we could have prevented this because there were signs.
"Maybe the hospitals should have caught it, maybe her parents should have caught it, maybe those people closest to her should have caught it. She put all over Facebook how wonderful she was. She had us all snowed, she had us all believing she was wonderful. But obviously not."
The former nurse was not surprised to learn that officials suspect Spears may suffer a psychological disorder.
"I don't care if it is a case of Munchausen by proxy. I think she should get whatever it is anyone else who murders someone gets."
Shawna Lynch, who knew Spears before Garnett was born and initially defended her, said: "I cried. It broke my heart but thank God they're finally going to get justice for G. I just hope she gets what she deserves. I know G's not coming back, but at least we'll have justice for him."
At the Fellowship Community , people were saddened at the mention of Spears and her son.
"There has to be some way where this isn't true," said one woman who wished not to be named.
Another Fellowship member said she couldn't reconcile the Spears she knew with the one in court on Tuesday.
"I don't see her as a murderer," the woman said. "I think (it was) sickness and I think a lot of things happen to us in our lives that are tragic and make us seek this kind of grief or sympathy that she was looking for. We all do it in different ways. I think it was really wrong of course, and I think it was terrible and all I can do is pray for her."
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