POLITICS

Psychiatrist tries to explain mother's loss of memory of drowning her 2 boys

03/20/2012 01:36 EDT | Updated 05/20/2012 05:12 EDT
WETASKIWIN, Alta. - There are all kinds of reasons why a mother who has admitted to drowning her two young sons doesn't remember it, a psychiatrist testified at the second-degree murder trial of Allyson McConnell Tuesday.

Dr. Alberto Choy said she had taken about 30 sleeping pills the Friday night of the weekend the crime took place. She had a concussion from jumping off a bridge in another attempt to take her own life. There was her long and sad history of dealing with painful memories — including sexual abuse at the hands of her father — by simply repressing them.

But Choy couldn't give the court a definitive answer as to whether she was capable at the time of forming the intent to kill Connor, 2, and 10-month-old Jayden.

"It is possible that she could not have consciously formed the intention to kill her children," said Choy in a March 5th letter entered as evidence.

"But her report about having no intent to harm her children was exactly that, a self report ... We can give little weight to her self description of having no thought or intent of harming her children.

"We do not think it likely that she lost any ability to understand that her behaviour hurt her children."

McConnell has confessed to drowning her two boys in a bathtub sometime between the night of Jan. 29 and Feb. 1, 2010. She then drove from her home in Millet, Alta., to Edmonton, where she parked her car, ordered lunch in a hotel restaurant, then walked out and jumped from a bridge onto a busy freeway.

She claims to remember none of those events and the trial has revolved around her state of mind at the time.

Choy testified it was quite possible that the pills she took and the liquor she washed them down with could cause memory loss. He also pointed out that she had tried to drown herself in a bathtub as well, which could have also affected her memory — as could have the concussion she suffered in her fall.

However, her most profound memory handicap is psychological. Choy testified that McConnell has a long history of repressing memories too painful to deal with, starting from when her father impregnated her when she was 15. She miscarried.

"Her way of coping with various traumas in her life have included shutting down experiences, shutting down emotions, shutting down even memory," said Choy.

Choy said McConnell is and was suffering from severe depression, as evidenced by her repeated suicide attempts both before and after the deaths of her children. He added that her attachment to her children was so complete that she may have seen their deaths as simply a part of her own.

"The most reasonable possibility is that Miss McConnell viewed the lives of her children as an extension of her own suicide," Choy testified. "She saw them as a part of her own life."

On Monday, Crown prosecutor Gordon Hatch suggested to McConnell during her testimony that she didn't inquire after her children after she regained consciousness in an Edmonton hospital because she knew they were dead because she killed them. On Tuesday, defence lawyer Peter Royal took pains to ask Choy to confirm that it was McConnell's mother and sister who informed her about the boys' deaths.

Choy concluded that whatever was going on in McConnell's head during the fatal weekend, her main goal was to kill herself.

"The most likely primary motivation for her behaviour was to end her own life," he told the court.

"It makes sense if the decision is, 'I don't want to be any more.' These children were a part of that."

In cross-examination, Crown prosecutor Gordon Hatch emphasized that memory loss doesn't mean McConnell didn't understand what she was doing at the time.

"She was able to form intent at the time of the killing?" he asked.

"Yes," responded Choy

Choy added that suicidal thoughts gave McConnell what she felt was one of the few avenues of control over her life.

McConnell's mother, Helen Meager, testified her daughter didn't seem to know her children were dead as she was recovering in hospital. Meager, who had flown from Australia to be with her daughter, said her daughter asked her who was looking after the children.

"I said to myself, 'She doesn't know,' " said Meager.

McConnell's reaction to the news was hysterical, Meager said.

"She was throwing stuff all around. I've never seen anything like it."

Roslyn Meager, Allyson's sister, told court the hysterics lasted about six hours.

Evidence in the trial is now complete. Closing arguments will be heard Thursday and the judge is expected to reserve decision.