CALGARY – The mother of a baby boy who was only 26 days old when he died in hospital from severe brain damage pleaded guilty Monday to manslaughter.
Shelby Herchak, 22, wiped away tears while an agreed statement of facts read into court said the boy's injuries were consistent with a motor vehicle accident or a significant fall.
"He has sustained severe injuries including a fractured skull and brain trauma. Surgery was attempted, but he was ultimately taken off life support and succumbed to the injuries,'' Crown prosecutor Julie Morgan said as she recounted the facts.
"The cause of death was blunt force trauma to the head and neck. Significant force was applied to the infant victim's head – similar to forces in a motor vehicle collision or a 10-foot fall, resulting in devastating, fatal injuries.''
Herchak was originally charged with second-degree murder in the death of son Daniel on Aug. 9, 2010.
The infant had been admitted to Alberta Children's Hospital. Court heard there were no witnesses to what happened, but Herchak's mother and father were in the home at the time. It was her mother who called paramedics to report that the baby was hurt.
An ambulance rushed Daniel to hospital. Because of the nature of his injuries, hospital staff contacted the child abuse unit, which then contacted the homicide unit.
Court was told that a CT scan found multiple injuries including two skull fractures, bleeding within the skull and a shift of the brain from left to right. An absence of neurological responses indicated damage to the brain stem. Even if Daniel had survived, his injuries were so bad that he would probably have been severely brain damaged.
"A social worker at the Alberta Children's hospital stayed with the accused and her family. The accused showed little emotion during the process and was unwilling to touch the victim except for taking a photo of the victim's hand,'' said Morgan.
"After taking a photo the accused had no further contact with the victim.''
Morgan said Herchak told investigators she had taken a shower at a friend's place and left her son in his car seat on the bed. She said her friend's dog jumped on the bed and the car seat fell onto the floor, but her son seemed all right.
Herchak said she had "changed her life for him'' and denied hurting Daniel or dropping him.
"She said she would never do that, drop something that was her life,'' said Morgan.
"She said, 'I have no idea what happened.'''
Justice Kristine Eidsvik said she wanted a psychological evaluation along with a pre-sentence report before deciding Herchak's fate.
The case is to return to court Nov. 8, but Eidsvik said it is likely to be January before she will be ready to deliver her sentence.
Herchak's lawyer said his client isn't denying her responsibility.
"Essentially, it was a manslaughter plea that she didn't intentionally cause the death of the child. It was the result of an unlawful act that caused the death,'' said Kim Ross.
"The benefit is it saves everybody from going through the whole process.''
Ross said his client is coping and just wants to get on with her life.
"I think it was tough. I think it gives everyone some closure.''
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