SALEM — A Lawrence Superior Court judge has rejected a bid for a new trial by the Salem mother convicted 21/2 years ago of trying to kill her autistic son by withholding his chemotherapy.
Judge Richard Welch, in a four-page decision released yesterday, concluded that while not perfect, the work of Kristen LaBrie’s attorney was “very good” and that the lawyer, Kevin James, pursued the only viable defense — that LaBrie was overwhelmed by the responsibility of caring for a sick child but unable, for a host of reasons, to admit it or ask for help.
LaBrie is serving an eight- to 10-year prison term on charges that include attempted murder, child endangerment, and assault and battery. Her 8-year-old son’s cancer had been in remission but returned in a deadlier form after she withheld his medications. Her son, Jeremy, died at the age of 9, after being removed from her custody.
It was James’ first Superior Court criminal case, and LaBrie’s new attorney, Michelle Menken, argued that he made mistakes, including failing to meet a deadline for notifying the court of his planned defense, which rendered him “ineffective” in representing LaBrie.
The judge disagreed. “In many ways this motion proves, once again,” Welch said, “that no good deed goes unpunished.”
Welch noted that James, who handled the case “pro bono,” or free of charge, pursued extensive pretrial motions, including a hearing to challenge the medical evidence and a motion to suppress statements and documents concerning the involvement of the Department of Social Services in LaBrie’s life.
“He chose the best possible defense and presented it well at trial,” Welch concluded.
Welch rejected complaints by the new attorney that James should have acknowledged LaBrie’s history with DSS, in order to show the jury that she was fearful of losing custody of her son. On the contrary, the judge said, James chose “wisely” not to do so, because “extremely prejudicial testimony of the defendant’s prior drunkenness, child neglect and loss of custody would have been presented to the jury.”