By Julie Manganis
SALEM — A Lawrence Superior Court jury yesterday rejected the claims of a Salem woman that she withheld chemotherapy from her young, autistic son because it was making him sicker, finding Kristen LaBrie guilty of attempted murder and three other counts.
LaBrie, 38, now faces up to 40 years in state prison when she is sentenced on Friday by Judge Richard Welch. In addition to the attempted murder charge, which carries a potential 20-year sentence, she was convicted of child endangerment and two counts of assault and battery, on a child and on a disabled person.
"It's never a good day to have to go through something like this," said Andrew Fraser, the paternal uncle of Jeremy Fraser, "but we did, and as of Friday, we'll have closure to this."
A doctor testified that Jeremy had an 85 to 90 percent chance of a cure — a chance for a miracle, prosecutor Kate MacDougall called it — with the chemotherapy regimen the doctor had prescribed.
Instead, Jeremy's cancer came out of remission, in a more deadly form, and he died about a year later of leukemia at the age of 9, in 2009.
The jury of seven women and five men spent 61/2 hours deliberating on Monday and yesterday morning, before returning their verdict at 10:30 a.m.
Ray Sims of Hamilton, one of the jurors, called the case "heart-wrenching."
"Ms. MacDougall had it right, in her closing argument, you don't want to believe that a mother would want to harm her child," said Sims. "That was part of the difficulty we had. It's not a smoking gun kind of case."
Jurors instead were asked to draw conclusions about her intentions. "None of us could get inside of her head," said Sims.
And there was a lot of sympathy toward her situation, he said.
"Our deliberation process was just trying to make sense of it — What's the story that makes sense?" said Sims.
Sims did say that he found the characterization of LaBrie as a mother who couldn't bear to see her child suffering, something he heard not only as part of the defense but in a radio report on the case as he drove home from court yesterday, was "so one-dimensional and just not substantiated by the facts of the case."
LaBrie's lack of emotion on the witness stand was also discussed, though Sims declined to go further and say whether that affected the outcome.
"Our hearts go out to both families," Michelle Hilse of Methuen, another of the jurors, said last evening. "It was a hard decision. It was a ve ry heartbreaking case and I'm glad that it's over, for us."
Hilse said the jurors deliberated for a full six hours before reaching the verdicts. In the end, they concluded that the law gave them no choice but to find LaBrie guilty, she said.
The jury foreman, Mark Damian, declined comment yesterday when reached at his home, and asked for understanding.
LaBrie was handcuffed, her $15,000 cash bail revoked, within moments of the verdict being read. She will be held in custody at MCI Framingham until her sentencing hearing Friday.
LaBrie appeared to hold back tears, while her sister, Elizabeth O'Keefe, started crying after the verdicts were read.
"Tell everyone I'm OK," LaBrie told her sister, handing her sister her jewelry, moments after being taken into custody in the courtroom.
Outside of court, O'Keefe said her sister was "scared."
Prosecutors moved to sentence LaBrie yesterday, but Judge Richard Welch agreed to a request by LaBrie's lawyer, Kevin James, to postpone it so that he could prepare a sentencing memorandum and collect letters of support for his client.
James told the judge that the "unique nature of the case" would require him to do some research into the sentencing guidelines.
Welch appeared at first to hesitate, saying, "The matter here is fresh in my mind," but then acceded to James' request, though not for as long as James was asking.
And he gave only a slight hint of what's to come, telling the lawyers, "These are very serious crimes."
The most serious of the charges, attempted murder, carries up to a 20-year state prison term.
LaBrie was first charged with child endangerment in 2008, after Jeremy's doctor discovered that his cancer had returned and then learned that LaBrie had failed to fill at least five months worth of prescriptions for at-home chemotherapy medications.
She was subsequently also charged by a grand jury with attempted murder and two assault and battery counts, in essence permitting bodily injury to her disabled child.
MacDougall, the prosecutor, argued to jurors that the failure to give Jeremy his at-home chemotherapy, as far back as 2006, was driven by LaBrie's anger and resentment at Jeremy's father, Eric Fraser, for leaving her and her desire to be rid of the burden of caring for a sick child.
She also suggested that LaBrie was careful in how she chose which medications not to administer — choosing only the ones that no one would know she wasn't giving, while still taking him for hospital chemotherapy sessions.
LaBrie had contended that she stopped because the chemotherapy was making him sicker than the cancer, but could not explain why she filled some prescriptions and subjected him to some treatments but not others.
Her testimony appeared at times to contradict her own lawyer's argument to jurors that LaBrie was so overwhelmed by the role of being a single parent to a profoundly autistic and cancer-stricken child that she unconsciously made a choice to stop giving him the medications.
But LaBrie not only could explain why she stopped the medications, but also why she repeatedly lied to Jeremy's doctor, nurses and social workers about it, contending that she knew that if she told them, they would find some other way to give him the medication, she testified.
Her sister, O'Keefe, told reporters yesterday that LaBrie "doesn't care what other people think about her. She knows what happened."
"She loved Jeremy and she wishes that she could have did things differently, I'm sure," said O'Keefe. "I don't think she attempted to murder my nephew."
James, the private attorney hired by LaBrie's family, left court through a back door and ran down an alley to avoid reporters.
But the performance of the lawyer, who did not stand up with his client as the verdict was delivered and who made other legal gaffes during the trial, was called into question by LaBrie's sister, who, asked if she was impressed by James, answered, "No, I was not." The family has not ruled out an appeal.
Meanwhile, Lori Thomas, Jeremy's aunt, thanked MacDougall and the rest of the prosecution team for their work on the case.
"It's been a long three years," she said.
Thomas said she believes there has been justice for her nephew.
"He's an angel," Thomas added. "He was an angel here and he's an angel up there."
Andrew Fraser was asked what Jeremy's father, Eric Fraser, who died in a motorcycle crash in 2009, would have thought of the verdict.
"My brother passed away," he said. "He's playing with his son right now. That's all he's concerned about right now."
Courts reporter Julie Manganis may be reached at 978-338-2521 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.