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LaBrie to serve 8-10 years in prison

Expresses remorse about death of son; punishment with mercy, judge says

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By Milton J. Valencia
Globe Staff / April 16, 2011

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LAWRENCE — Saying “our society is judged on how we protect its most vulnerable members,’’ a Superior Court judge sentenced a mother to 8 to 10 years in state prison yesterday for the attempted murder of her disabled son by denying him potentially life-saving cancer treatment. The boy later died at age 9.

“What the defendant did was commit the crime of attempted murder,’’ Judge Richard E. Welch III said in extensive, prepared remarks before handing out the sentence to Kristen LaBrie, who moments earlier had tearfully expressed remorse and said she would change what she had done if she could.

“As difficult as it is for us to understand, she had the specific intent to kill her young son and intentionally withheld potentially life-saving medication from him in order to accomplish her goal of murder,’’ Welch said.

LaBrie, 38, was also convicted of assault and battery on a disabled person, assault and battery on a child, and reckless endangerment of a child for withholding medication from her son, Jeremy Fraser. Once she completes her prison sentence, she must serve five years of probation and take anger management courses.

The boy’s father, Eric Fraser, was killed in a motorcycle accident less than a year after his son died in March 2009. Speaking outside the courthouse yesterday, Eric’s brother Andrew said the jury and the judge spoke for the father and son and helped to bring the family some closure. He said the sentence was appropriate.

“We needed this,’’ Fraser said, calculating that LaBrie will serve one year for every year Jeremy lived. “Jeremy was victim, but he was a trouper. He fought as hard as anyone, and he got that from his dad.’’

Essex District Attorney Jonathan W. Blodgett said in a statement yesterday: “This was a tragic and difficult case. For the Commonwealth, this prosecution was always about justice for Jeremy.’’

Jeremy, who was autistic and developmentally disabled, was diagnosed with a treatable case of non-Hodgkins lymphoma in October 2009, just after turning 7. Immediately, LaBrie agreed to a treatment plan, with Massachusetts General Hospital doctors telling her Jeremy had an 85 to 90 percent chance of being cured.

Jeremy went through a series of painful in-patient chemotherapy treatments. But LaBrie has said she withheld medications for him at home for months. By spring 2007, doctors realized that the cancer, which had been in remission, had returned in the form of leukemia. LaBrie, then a single mother, lost custody of Jeremy to his father, and the boy died in hospice care, his father by his side.

Andrew Fraser, in a poignant impact statement yesterday, said the boy had enjoyed his life in his last year and that his father “was devastated when doctors told him the cancer came back with a vengeance.’’

“No father was closer to his son, and no father tried to do more for his son than Eric did for Jeremy,’’ Andrew Fraser said. “Somewhere, they are playing ball together, watching over all of us.’’

LaBrie, who lived in Salem and Beverly, testified during the trial in her own defense that she withheld the medication because she could no longer bear the pain they were causing her son. The mother, who was diagnosed with depression, also said she was overwhelmed and stressed by the workload of caring for an autistic son who needed chemotherapy. At times, she said, she would have to pin him down to administer the treatments.

Her attorney, Kevin James, sought to portray the mother’s failure as a tragic mistake, not a criminal act. He said yesterday that he has received an outpouring of support from parents who have had similar experiences and have written e-mails and letters on LaBrie’s behalf. He submitted those letters to Welch for consideration yesterday.

“This was a tragic set of situations,’’ James said outside the courthouse.

James had asked for LaBrie to serve only a year in jail.

Assistant District Attorney Kate MacDougall, who prosecuted the case, had recommended 15 to 17 years.

LaBrie appeared in court yesterday showing the toll of her first days in detention. She wore a prison-issued sweatshirt and pants and had her hair in a ponytail.

Her hands were cuffed and her legs shackled. She went from weeping to whispering to her family members that she was OK.

She told the court she was sorry.

“If I could do it differently, I would, because I certainly miss my son every day, and I think about him every day,’’ she said. “I’m sorry for all this, for everything I’ve done to my family.’’

Elizabeth O’Keefe, LaBrie’s younger sister, said outside the courthouse: “Every minute she has to spend [in prison] is too much. I’m going to miss her, but I’m going to be there for her, and I’ll make sure that she knows we still love her and we’re never going to leave her alone or forget about her.’’

Before the sentencing, the judge said that he was moved by the show of support from LaBrie’s family and from others. He acknowledged the difficulties LaBrie faced in raising a disabled child who at 7 was still wearing diapers and said that “she must have felt that she was confronting these monumental burdens all alone.’’

In his pointed remarks, however, Welch disagreed with letter writers who used Jeremy’s condition as an excuse for what happened.

The judge pointed out that LaBrie allowed her son to endure the pain of inpatient chemotherapy, only to subvert any progress by failing to follow up with the medications at home.

“Ms. LaBrie’s was an extended, secretive, and calculated act that chills the soul,’’ the judge said. “This type of conduct demands punishment, albeit tempered by mercy.’’

Milton Valencia can be reached at mvalencia@globe.com.