Mom caught on camera poisoning young son to death in hospital
12/08/2016 12:00 pm PST
UPDATE Oct. 11, 2017:
The Armonk, N.Y. Daily Voice reports the conviction of Lacey Spears was upheld by a state appellate court Wednesday. Spears was found guilty of depraved indifference murder of a child after she was convicted by a jury in 2015, and she was sentenced to 20 years to life in prison.
The panel of judges delivered their decision in Brooklyn, unanimously announcing that there was sufficient evidence to establish her guilt in the death without a reasonable doubt, the Armonk Daily Voice reports.
Spears' son died just hours after doctors in a hospital gave him a clean bill of health. Police claimed Lacey poisoned her son, Garnett, to death with lethal levels of salt, and got proof with recorded video of the heartbreaking murder. Scroll down for the full story.
Dec. 8, 2016:
Crime Watch Daily investigates the blockbuster case of Lacey Spears, a Kentucky mother who set off on a desperate journey to find a cure for son's unexplained illnesses.
But was she really doing everything to help him get better, or was she the one making so sick he would eventually die?
Lacey Spears grew up in Decatur, Alabama and this all-American girl loved dolls. Lacey's love of dolls grew to a profound love for real children too.
Lacey Spears wanted children of her own. Her dream came true when she got pregnant and gave birth to a beautiful little boy she named Garnett. But motherhood got off to a rocky start when at just nine days old, Garnett became so ill that he was hospitalized.
"Within days she was taking him to the hospital and complaining that he wasn't eating and he was failing to thrive and he was getting all these infections and everything," said Glatt.
This will be just one of dozens of trips they made to the doctor to address Garnett's growing list of mysterious health issues.
"The doctors were baffled by the various things that she said: She had Crohn's Disease, she said Garnett had many other diseases, which were inexplicable," said Glatt.
Most notably, Lacey told doctors that Garnett would not eat.
"When he was eight months old, she asked to have a feeding tube put in because she said he was a 'failure-to-thrive child,'" said Glatt. "She went to various doctors and hospitals, many of them were very hesitant to put a feeding tube in, but eventually she found one doctor that did."
But Lacey didn't stop there with her son's surgeries.
"He also had another procedure to close up his throat so he couldn't regurgitate or be sick," said Glatt.
Garnett is fed through a tube and is no longer able to throw up. His little body is forced to ingest everything his mother is feeding him.
From Garnett's daily diet to his frequent hospital visits, it was all documented on Lacey's multiple social media websites. It appeared that a growing online community is where this young single mom turned for support, comfort and sympathy. Lacey kept a detailed blog called Garnett's Journey.
Garnett had visited 20 different medical facilities. But Lacey claimed there is still no relief for her little boy. Appearing desperate for a cure, Lacey and her son move to Florida. There she discovers a possible solution to her son's medical needs. Looking for the ultimate in holistic food, Lacey and Garnett move again, this time to the secluded area of Chestnut Ridge, New York to a place called the Fellowship Community, which has a focus on sustainable living and a farm-to-table diet. Lacey and Garnett were welcomed with open arms.
Garnett, now a lively and happy little 5-year-old boy, began to make friends and hang out with other families. Then the oddest thing starts to happen.
"He had a very, very healthy appetite according to many of the friends that used to see him, but Lacey said he never ate," said Glatt.
Lacey's new neighbors didn't see any of the signs of the sick child she's chatted about all these on her social media accounts. But their suspicion turns to sympathy when Lacey shares some devastating news.
"Initially she had told me that her fiance, the baby's father, Blake, had perished," said Westchester County, New York Police Detective Daniel Carfi. "He was a former policeman who was killed in a tragic car accident."
Blake's death appeared to be heartbreaking for Lacey. As the community of Chestnut Ridge rallied around Lacey, new questions surfaced about their new neighbor and her ailing son.
In the tight-knit area of Chestnut Ridge, New York, people in the community become suspicious.
"She told everyone about Garnett, the terrible illnesses he'd had over his life, how he was a failure-to-thrive child who had all these various diseases and couldn't eat, they'd take him out to a diner and they'd see him eat double portions and whatever and things started not to add up," said author John Glatt.
But Lacey is adamant that something is very wrong with her son's health. And on one afternoon following symptoms of a high fever, severe headache and convulsions, Lacey rushes Garnett to the hospital.
It's Friday when they check in.
"The mother complained that he was having seizures. They hooked him up to an EEG. The first day, there is no seizure," said Ramapo Police Detective Gregory Dunn.
And there's no seizure activity on Saturday or Sunday. According to the medical staff, 5-year-old Garnett is the picture of health.
"Sunday morning the nurse comes in with some great news for Lacey that Garnett had no seizure activity, he most likely would be going home," said Det. Dunn.
Then, just moments after the nurses and doctors leave Garnett's hospital room...
"A young boy who's bouncing in the bed one moment, and within 10 minutes, deathly ill," said Ramapo Police Detective Kirk Budnick.
Lacey gives a play by play on her Facebook page. And then a tragic turn for the worse that no one saw coming.
"Essentially the child was brain dead," said Detective Daniel Carfi.
Again, Lacey takes to Facebook.
Doctors treating Garnett can't find a medical explanation for his current grave condition. Alarmed by the suspicious circumstances, they call the police.
Blood tests show Garnett has a lethal amount of sodium in his system. But how in the world did it get there? Not naturally, according to doctors. Right away, Lacey is interviewed by police.
"She spoke pretty well, she had a pretty good working knowledge of hospital terms and illnesses. At the exact moment I had no reason not to believe what she was telling me," said Carfi.
According to investigators, they had to wonder if this was simply a tragic story of a young mother who has just lost her sick child. Detectives had to consider that maybe the doctors got it wrong.
During that same interview with Detective Carfi, Lacey mentions the recent passing of Garnett's father, Blake. Around this same time, Lacey's own father arrives at the hospital. Detective Carfi learns that there whoever "Blake" is, he is not dead -- and he is not Garnett's father.
Blake Robinson is alive and well and working as a Morgan County sheriff's deputy in Alabama. Police say Robinson did not know Lacey was using pictures of him or using him in her story until he was told by Carfi. Robinson tells police he went out on a couple of dates with Lacey, but nothing serious or sexual.
"For me that was the biggest red flag to Lacey's truthfulness," said Carfi. Investigators wonder, if she lied about Garnett's father, what else might she be lying about?
Police obtain a search warrant for Lacey's apartment.
"When we walked in there was open setting kind of apartment, and in the middle of it was a feeding-machine pump that appeared to be breast milk in the feeding bag," said Det. Dunn. "There was a small table off to the side, it had all the medications that she had told us, there was like seven, eight medications that she had told Detective Carfi that she was currently giving her son, lined up on the table, and in the middle of those was a sea salt container."
Police photograph the apartment. Then they receive a game-changing phone call. It's shocking information coming from Lacey's neighbor, Valerie Plauche. She tells police Lacey called her to ask her to go to her apartment, retrieved the feeding bag, get rid of it, and don't tell anybody about it.
Detectives recover the feeding bag and a second bag from the trash.
"They were submitted to the Westchester County lab for analysis and an astronomically high level of sodium was found in those bags," said Budnick.
Police collect 170 items from Lacey's apartment and question her again.
Investigators start digging and discover dozens of records from Child Protective Services and doctors' offices from Alabama and Florida. Detectives begin to see a pattern of what they believe to be child abuse in one of the rarest forms: Munchausen by Proxy Syndrome.
Investigators start to build their case, believing Lacey was poisoning her son and then posting it all over social media to grab attention and sympathy. Though she and her lawyers deny Lacey Spears suffers from any mental disorder, Lacey seems to be the poster child for Munchausen by Proxy. But how did she get away with this for so long?
"If someone were to catch onto her or they would try to investigate her, she'd move along. She knew how to play the system. When Child Protective Services in Alabama and Florida both were investigating her, she would move along. She knew that when it was getting too hot for her to be there, it was time to move," said Dunn.
But the buck stops in New York. Now investigators just need solid proof, more than just tainted feeding bags and a canister of salt. If only cops could catch lacey red-handed -- or perhaps they already have.
New York investigators suspect Lacey Spears has just killed her own 5-year-old son. The boy died just hours after doctors in the hospital gave him a clean bill of health. Cops claim Lacey poisoned her son, Garnett, to death with lethal levels of salt.
And now they believe they have proof: actual videotape of the heartbreaking murder.
"Doing an interview with Garnett's kindergarten teacher, who also happened to be a nurse, we had talked to her several times before, and on this one occasion we were discussing that things that had happened in the hospital, and she said he was on an EEG, and we said yes he was, and she goes 'Well where's the video to that?' I didn't know there was a video to that. I didn't know the machine was hooked up to video."
The final moments of Garnett's life were captured on video on Jan. 19, 2014. The video begins when Garnett checks in on Friday and it records through Sunday, when doctors and nurses tell Lacey that Garnett is healthy enough to go home. After medical personnel leave the room, Lacey appears to take Garnett to the bathroom just outside of camera range.
"When he came back out of that bathroom, a few seconds, minutes, he turned into the most sick child, burying his head into the bed, the pillow, turning, retching, he was trying to throw up, but we already know that he couldn't throw up because at nine months old he had an operation that kept him from throwing up," said Dunn.
"It's something that will haunt me. It's the worst video," said Det. Dunn. "We actually had to watch a video of a 5-year-old child being murdered."
Lacey is arrested and charged with murder. Lacey's defense team argued she didn't poison her son with salt and, in fact, there was no sodium recovered from the feeding bags in his hospital room. But in court, prosecutors slow down that video to show what appears to be a feeding tube and some substance in Lacey's hands when she returned from the bathroom with her 5-year-old son.
Prosecutors claim that just off camera in the bathroom, Lacey gave Garnett a lethal dose of salt, which moments later caused his brain to swell, and ultimately killed him.
But there's more: the videotape evidence also shows Lacey on her phone doing Google searches.
"She had been on the phone laying in the bed and we observed that some of those searches were 'salt poisoning,'" said Dunn. "We can connect the time of the phone to the video and the search that she was doing."
Lacey Spears was found guilty of depraved indifference murder of a child and was sentenced to 20 years to life in prison.
When Garnett passed away, his real father, Chris Hill, was devastated, and posted a message in part on his Facebook page: "I cried for hours when I found this out, and it will continue to hurt till the day I die."
Detectives say that during their six-month investigation, they were deathly afraid that Lacey might be trying to get pregnant again, that some of her online chatter was about trying to have another child. But she was arrested before that could happen.