“Throughout his short life, Garnett Spears was forced to suffer through repeated hospitalizations, unneeded surgical procedures and ultimately poisoning with salt, all at the hands of the one person who should have been his ultimate protector: his mother. Using the child’s ‘illnesses’ to self-aggrandize herself, Lacey Spears’ actions directly lead to her son’s tortured death.”
- Westchester County District Attorney Janet DiFiore
It was the 17th of January 2014. A Friday. Twenty seven year old Lacey Spears lived with her five year old son, Garnett Spears, in the Fellowship, New York, United States. She had lived there since 2012. Lacey's hometown was Decatur in Alabama but she moved to New York as she thought she could find a better school for Garnett. The Fellowship was ideal for her. The Fellowship is an alternative community located just an hour outside of New York City.
Within a day, via the use of IVs, Garnett's sodium level was brought down. But the high sodium levels had already caused his brain to swell which caused brain damage and he was placed on life support. Two days after Garnett’s brain swelled from the effects of high sodium, he was taken off life support and declared dead on the 23rd of January.
Nobody at the hospital could establish via tests or medical experience how Garnett's sodium levels had gotten so high while he was in hospital.
They believed the only explanation was that someone had administered it to him. And the only person they believed who could have done that was his own mother Lacey. They reported their suspicions to police.
Police began an investigation.
Police went to Lacey's home. In the kitchen, they found medicines on a table behind salt. In the living room, there was an IV type pole with a substance hanging from it. Valerie Plauche, one of the other residents at the Fellowship, told police that when Garnett was on life support, Lacey asked her to dispose of a feeding bag. Police obtained the feeding bag from Valerie and a second one from the trash at Lacey's home. They sent them away to be tested.
One of the Feeding Bags
Police discovered that Garnett was sick since he was a baby. At just two months old, he was in and out of hospital with severe ear infections. Garnett could not hold any food down and was losing weight. His sodium level was found to be dangerously high at 166.
The reason that high levels of sodium can be dangerous is because it can cause seizures and the brain to swell.
The Westchester County medical examiner ruled Garnett's death a homicide. There was a toxic level of sodium in his body.
It was the Prosecution's case that Lacey poisoned Garnett by giving him salt through his G tube. They believe she did this at home and when he was in the hospital.
The Prosecution told the Jury that when Garnett was admitted to the hospital ,a video electroencephalogram was set up to rule out a seizure disorder. A video camera was placed facing his hospital bed to record any physical symptoms of seizures that he may exhibit. That footage was shown to the Court as evidence.
On the 19th of January, the footage revealed that Lacey took Garnett into the bathroom at the hospital. She brought a white cup and what appeared to be an attachment that connected to Garnett's G tube into the bathroom with her. Shortly after Garnett left the bathroom, he became violently ill. Garnett was suffering from diarrhea and had severe headaches. He was also dry heaving. The Prosecution claimed that when they were in the bathroom, Lacey put salt in Garnett's G tube.
When Garnett improved, Lacey again brought him to the bathroom with a white cup and what appeared to be the attachment to his G tube. It was the Prosecution's case that Lacey put salt in his G tube during that visit to the bathroom also.
Garnett was violently ill shortly afterwards for a second time and it looked like he was having a seizure but the EEG did not show seizure activity. It showed a significant slowing in the brain waves. This suggested a severe brain dysfunction.
Doctors carried out various tests and a blood test revealed he had high sodium levels. It was then that they decided to transfer him to a more specialized hospital as at that point, Garnett was in a critical condition. He could not breathe on his own.
He was diagnosed with hypernatremia (an elevated sodium level) of unknown etiology. Just two days later it was determined that he was brain dead and he would not survive. As a result, his life support machine was switched off.
Lacey Spears and Garnett
The Prosecution called a number of Doctors to testify about the sodium levels. They all agreed that it could not go from 138 to 182 naturally.
It was the Prosecution's case that Lacey deliberately made Garnett sick as she liked the attention.
The Prosecution told the Court that in a period of just two years, Lacey brought Garnett to twenty different Doctors. She repeatedly told them that he had various different medical conditions, which had already been ruled out by other Doctors. The Court heard that Lacey had carried out internet searches for high sodium levels, dangers of high sodium and signs of high sodium just three days before Garnett was brought to hospital. It was their case that Lacey knew exactly what she was doing and knew that giving Garnett salt through his feeding tube would cause him to become ill.
Lacey and Garnett
While Garnett was dangerously ill in hospital, Lacey continued to post photos of him on Facebook. These included photos she had taken after he suffered cerebral edema and when she knew that he would unlikely recover.
The Jury heard that after Garnett died, a treating physician called Child Protective Services. He believed that the hypernatremia was caused by introduction of salt into his G tube.
An autopsy was carried out and the medical examiner agreed.
Lacey and Garnett in Hospital
It was the Defense's case that Garnett’s death was a medical mistake. Their argument was that Garnett did not receive the correct medication to combat his dehydration and that they then exacerbated it by giving him a rapid infusion IV solution. That IV solution contained sodium solution and they argued that that is what contributed to his death.
Lacey did not testify or speak at her Trial.
One month after Lacey Spear’s trial began, a verdict was reached. She was found guilty of depraved indifference murder of a child.
Lacey had a history of lying. She faked her own illnesses throughout her life and tried to pretend other children were her own. She even lied about Garnett's father. His father was not a police officer called Blake who died in a car crash. He was a former friend. They used to live in the same apartment block and his name was Chris Hill and he was still very much alive. According to Chris, he wanted to be in Garnett's life but Lacey refused to give him access and moved to New York. She loved drama and attention and the sympathy that she received from others.
The Prosecution asked the Judge to provide the maximum sentence to Lacey but Judge Neary said:
“One does not have to be a psychologist to realize that you suffer from a mental illness known as Munchausen by proxy. I hope you, over the next few years, come to grips with your condition. By not imposing the maximum sentence, I’m combining your punishment with something that you really did not exhibit toward your son, namely mercy.”
Munchausen by proxy is a disorder in which, in some cases, caretakers purposely but secretly harm children and then enjoy the attention and sympathy they receive. Lacey was sentenced to 20 years to life in prison. She maintains that she is innocent.
Lacey Spears will eligible for parole in 2034. She will be just 46 years old.
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"The criminal justice system will take a hard look at what happened to Matthew Eappen. It is up to the rest of us to take an even harder look at who is minding our children."
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