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Baby-Killing Case Going to Jury

Closing arguments in a Lake Forest tragedy portray a drug-abusing mother differently.

October 28, 2004|H.G. Reza | Times Staff Writer

In closing arguments for her murder trial Wednesday, lawyers offered starkly contrasting views of Christine Nicole Symmonds: as a woman who cared more about drugs than her infant son, and as an imperfect mother who, despite her troubles with drugs and alcohol, loved her baby.

Symmonds is charged with murder in the death of her son in June 2003. Authorities say she rolled over onto her baby and suffocated him while in a drug-induced stupor.

Defense attorney Dolores Yost acknowledged that her client was not an ideal mother, but said she was trying to protect her baby. "The safest place she felt she could be with her child was in the bed. This is a mother who, though extremely flawed, showed daily love and affection for this child," Yost said.

Deputy Dist. Atty. Howard Gundy, however, argued that Symmonds acted with reckless disregard for her baby's safety and urged jurors to find her guilty of murder in the death of 3-month-old Jason.

At the time of the tragedy, the baby and his mother were asleep on an air mattress in a Lake Forest home where they lived temporarily. The prosecutor noted that Symmonds had earlier given up custody of an older daughter to her father because she could not shake an addiction to methamphetamine.

Jurors will decide whether Symmonds is guilty of second-degree murder, as urged by the prosecution, or involuntary manslaughter, which the defense wants. Second-degree murder could put Symmonds, 21, in prison for 15 years to life. Involuntary manslaughter would mean a sentence of four years at most.

"This killing resulted from this defendant using drugs for several days ... and not providing for the child's care or safety," Gundy told the jury.

He described Symmonds as "an experienced drug user" who was "sleeping off the effect of her intoxication" on the day Jason died.

Gundy repeatedly portrayed Symmonds as an uncaring mother who often left Jason with friends -- also acknowledged to be drug users -- while she slept off the effects of drug and alcohol binges.

Yost offered a more sympathetic picture of Symmonds to the jury and reassured her client with a stroke of the cheek or hug during court recesses.

The defense showed jurors the pajamas and booties Jason had been wearing, noting that they were clean. Then she opened up a cloth bag of Symmonds' that was full of baby items, including suppositories, a thermometer and a feeding bottle.

She said Symmonds stopped using drugs when she became pregnant with Jason and that he was born drug-free. She also said the baby's medical records show that Symmonds took him to the doctor four times during his 90 days of life -- evidence, she said, that her client cared about Jason.

Yost acknowledged that the child received communal care from Symmonds' drug-using friends, whom she said "tailored their drug use around the needs of the baby."

She acknowledged Symmonds' culpability in Jason's death, but urged jurors to cast aside their emotion or outrage and act with "reason or logic" in determining Symmonds' fate.

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