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Woman Gets Probation in Slaying of Disabled Son

November 18, 1987|Associated Press

MEDIA, Pa. — A woman who killed her disabled son, allegedly because she was despondent over setbacks in his intensive therapy program, was sentenced today to five years of probation and 750 hours of community service.

Common Pleas Judge William Lipsitt said he decided on the sentence for Irene Bernstein in the shooting death of her 2-year-old son, Eric, after "some soul-searching" because as a judge he could not condone murder.

But he said of conflicting psychologists' reports on Bernstein's frame of mind, "We know that psychology is not an exact science and, in the law, there are no absolutes either."

Bernstein, 41, had pleaded no contest Monday to a charge of third-degree murder. She faced up to a 20-year prison sentence and a $25,000 fine.

She collapsed sobbing as Lipsitt outlined the terms of the sentence. Her husband, Rob, and a female bailiff held her up. Many of the 50 spectators in the courtroom wept as well.

Authorities had charged Bernstein with first-degree murder in the May 11 killing of Eric.

Her attorneys contended that the shooting took place after Bernstein became distraught over the child's failure to respond to an exhausting therapy regimen involving dozens of neighborhood volunteers.

Eric was born prematurely and suffered from hyaline membrane disease, a respiratory disorder that hampered his ability to crawl and walk.

A controversial therapy called "patterning" was prescribed for Eric. The program involved manipulating the boy's legs in a crawling motion every 20 minutes for 12 or more hours per day on the theory that he would learn to crawl through repetition.

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