Mother’s fate now in hands of jury

Withheld son’s cancer medication for months

By Milton J. Valencia
Globe Staff / April 12, 2011

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LAWRENCE — After posting a picture of a young, smiling Jeremy Fraser for the courtroom to see, an Essex County prosecutor asked a Superior Court jury yesterday to hold the boy’s mother responsible for the attempted murder of the child, saying she knowingly withheld cancer medication that could have saved his life.

Assistant District Attorney Kate MacDougall told jurors that the cancer in Jeremy relapsed, and he died less than three years after his diagnosis. He was 9.

“He was a little boy, he was her little boy, and he had an opportunity for a miracle . . . and she took that from him, she stole that from him,’’ MacDougall told jurors in the case of Kristen LaBrie of Beverly.

“That was not a tragic mistake,’’ MacDougall added, “That was not an accident. That was in every sense of the word criminal.’’

Authorities allege that LaBrie failed to provide chemotherapy medication in the months after Jeremy was diagnosed in October 2006 with non-Hodgkins lymphoma. Once doctors realized that he had not been taking prescribed medications, in February 2008, Jeremy was placed in the custody of his father. The boy died in March 2009, after his illness progressed to leukemia.

LaBrie’s lawyer, Kevin James, argued yesterday that the single mother withheld the chemotherapy medications because she could no longer bear the pain they were causing her son. He added that she was depressed and overwhelmed by the care of Jeremy, who also had autism.

James said his client made a mistake, but that it was not a criminal act, arguing she never had the malice or willful intent to cause harm to her child.

“Ms. LaBrie was unable to put chemotherapy medication into her son’s body,’’ he said. “Her coping and ability to do what she had to do started to wane. The Commonwealth wants to take this tragic set of circumstances and turn it into a criminal prosecution.’’

LaBrie, 38, faces charges of attempted murder, assault and battery on a disabled person with injury, assault and battery on a child with substantial injury, and reckless endangerment of a child.

The panel of seven women and five men deliberated for five hours yesterday after hearing closing arguments and instructions on the law. The jurors are slated to continue deliberations today.

At one point yesterday, jurors asked Judge Richard Welch about a parent’s legal responsibility to administer prescribed medications. Over the objection of the defense attorney, the judge responded by saying a parent would be required to administer medications if they would protect a child from significant harm.

Welch also told jurors that they have to conclude on their own whether prosecutors have convinced them that LaBrie’s decision not to provide medication legally qualifies as an “overt action’’ under the state’s attempted murder law.

The weeklong trial included testimony by Jeremy’s doctors and social workers, LaBrie’s pharmacist, and one of her relatives. The mother also took the stand to provide her account of the treatment of her son.

LaBrie told jurors that she thought her son had been ridded of cancer, and that she withheld the prescribed medication because of the pain it caused.

MacDougall, through the cross-examination of LaBrie, sought to paint the mother as an exaggerator who abused her child by withholding the medication, which she knew provided a chance to save his life. She also said LaBrie lied about administering the medications because she realized what she was doing was wrong.

In her closing arguments yesterday, MacDougall said that LaBrie did not show emotions typical of a mother who lost her child, stating that she got a haircut and took vacations after losing custody of Jeremy.

Jeremy was placed in the custody of his father, Eric Fraser, who died in a motorcycle accident in 2010.

James argued that his client was overwhelmed raising Jeremy on her own, and that officials at Massachusetts General Hospital — where Jeremy was receiving care — should have done more to determine whether she was suitable to administer the treatments. “The child required more care than one person could give,’’ he said. “You have to make him sick [by giving him the drugs], but she failed to do it, she couldn’t do it . . . because she loved the child.’’

MacDougall said that the mother took the responsibility for her child, and that she failed to follow his interest in completing the medication, even if he was suffering from pain. “They asked her to do what they ask every parent to do,’’ she said.

Milton Valencia can be reached at