LAWRENCE, Mass. — A woman who withheld potentially life-saving medications from her autistic, cancer-stricken son was sentenced Friday to eight to 10 years in prison by a judge who said her actions "really do chill one's soul."
Kristen LaBrie was convicted of attempted murder Tuesday for withholding at least five months of at-home chemotherapy treatments for her son, Jeremy Fraser. The boy died at age 9 in 2009.
LaBrie, 38, wept and apologized before Judge Richard Welch handed down her punishment in Lawrence Superior Court.
"I am remorseful for my actions and I wish I could have done things differently," LaBrie told the judge in a courtroom packed with sobbing family members and friends of both LaBrie and the boy's father, Eric Fraser.
"If I could do it differently, I would, because I certainly miss my son, and I think about him every day and I wish he could be with me and my family," she said.
Jeremy Fraser was severely autistic, nonverbal and developmentally delayed. He was diagnosed with non-Hodgkins lymphoma shortly after he turned 7 in 2006.
His oncologist testified that she told LaBrie that her son's cancer had a cure rate of about 85 percent to 90 percent under an intensive, two-year treatment plan that included doses of chemotherapy to be given during hospital stays and clinic visits as well as at-home medications LaBrie was supposed to administer at home.
LaBrie testified that she largely followed doctor's orders during the first four phases of his treatment. But she acknowledged that she stopped giving him the at-home medications during the final phase of treatment because she could not bear to see how much pain and suffering the side effects of the medication caused him.
The boy's doctor said she discovered in February 2008 that LaBrie had not filled five months of prescriptions and that Jeremy's cancer had returned as leukemia.
LaBrie testified in her own defense, saying she did not give her son at least five months of chemotherapy medications because the side effects made him so sick she was afraid the treatments would kill him. LaBrie called her son "very, very fragile" and said she didn't think he could withstand any more chemotherapy.
The judge expressed sympathy for LaBrie, saying she was placed "in an extremely trying and exhausting situation" as a single mother with financial troubles raising a severely autistic boy. He said the cancer diagnosis added to her burden and acknowledged she was under "tremendous pressures."
Don't miss these Health stories
More women opting for preventive mastectomy - but should they be?
Rates of women who are opting for preventive mastectomies, such as Angeline Jolie, have increased by an estimated 50 percent in recent years, experts say. But many doctors are puzzled because the operation doesn't carry a 100 percent guarantee, it's major surgery -- and women have other options, from a once-a-day pill to careful monitoring.
- Larry Page's damaged vocal cords: Treatment comes with trade-offs
- Report questioning salt guidelines riles heart experts
- CDC: 2012 was deadliest year for West Nile in US
- What stresses moms most? Themselves, survey says
- More women opting for preventive mastectomy - but should they be?
But he said it was not a case where the boy had only a slim chance of recovery. He also said it wasn't a case where a parent was motivated by strongly held religious beliefs about not giving medical care to a child.
"To the contrary, here the defendant allowed Jeremy to endure the pain of inpatient chemotherapy ... so that he could get the promise of an 85 to 90 percent chance of recovery, but then she intentionally subverted Jeremy's chances by not following up with the critically important at-home medications," Welch said.
"At the end of the day, Miss LaBrie's actions were extended, secretive and calculated. They were acts that really do chill one's soul."
The sentence was higher than the 5 to 7 1/2 years called for under nonbinding state sentencing guidelines but significantly less than the 15 to 17 years sought by prosecutors.
LaBrie faced a maximum of 20 years on the attempted murder charge, 10 years on a charge of assault and battery on a disabled person, five years on assault and battery on a child causing substantial injury and 2½ years on reckless endangerment of a child.
Assistant District Attorney Kate MacDougall acknowledged that LaBrie had a difficult time caring for Jeremy alone and watching him suffer horrible side effects from chemotherapy. But she said the jury found that whatever her difficult circumstances were, she "made a decision to harm Jeremy. ... She intended to kill him."
"At the end of the day this was just child abuse ... she withheld from this child intentionally his chance for a cure," MacDougall said.
LaBrie's lawyer, Kevin James, asked the judge to impose a one-year sentence followed by a lengthy period of probation. He cited dozens of letters he received urging leniency from people around the country, including doctors and nurses with autistic children who have "walked in Miss LaBrie's shoes."
James said LaBrie was "nothing but a caring and loving mother" until her son was diagnosed with cancer. He said she made "an awful, awful mistake" and has suffered greatly.
"A lengthy jail sentence is going to do what?" he asked.
LaBrie's older son, Matthew, 18, wrote a letter to the judge asking for leniency.
"My mother was nothing but unbelievably kind, caring and completely devoted to Jeremy in every aspect of her life," he wrote.
He described his mother sitting by Jeremy's bedside while he was treated for cancer at Massachusetts General Hospital.
"Something like that takes a toll on a person and after all that, could anybody so easily sit by and watch while a cure is making a child feel worse?"
Jeremy's uncle, Andrew Fraser, spoke to the judge before sentencing, saying he wanted to represent Jeremy and Jeremy's father, Eric, who was killed in a motorcycle accident seven months after Jeremy died.
Andrew Fraser said his brother would have asked for a "fair and just" punishment for LaBrie, despite the contentious relationship they had.
"The jury has spoken and nothing you can do will bring us back my nephew and my brother," he said.
"Somewhere, they are playing ball together and watching over all of us."
Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.