Persuaded by a young mother's remorse and her vow to stop having children, a Hennepin County judge on Tuesday chose the lower end of state guidelines in adjudicating a seven-year prison sentence for the defendant's suffocation of her 3-month-old boy and near-killing of her infant girl.
Ashleigh Casey, 26, formerly of Farmington, has factitious disorder, formerly called Munchausen syndrome by proxy, wherein a caregiver fakes or causes an illness in another person in a quest for third-party sympathy. The death of a child at the hands of a person with factitious disorder is rare, experts say.
After tearful goodbyes to family members and friends outside the courtroom, Casey stood before Judge Fred Karasov as her attorney told the judge that Casey voluntarily had her fallopian tubes tied to prevent future pregnancies.
The county attorney's office had asked for a 12-year prison term, recommended by state sentencing guidelines. But Karasov departed downward from those recommendations, saying that Casey has shown great remorse, successfully completed therapy and shown herself amenable to probation.
The judge said Casey is mentally ill, but not severely enough for it to amount to a legal defense. He also noted that she can't have any more children.
"It's hard for a woman to accept responsibility for something like this," Casey's attorney, Sarah Walter, said. "This carries intense social stigma."
Casey pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and felony assault in March. If she violates probation after she is released from prison, she could be forced to serve another seven-year sentence Karasov handed down for the assault.
Casey's son, Alexander, died in 2009 in a St. Louis Park home where they were staying. Although the cause of his death was undetermined at the time, police had suspected something was wrong when Casey didn't seem distraught and checked her text messages while paramedics tried in vain to save his life.
Nearly four years later, she tried to suffocate her daughter while the baby was a patient at University of Minnesota Amplatz Children's Hospital. Doctors became suspicious about the number of times Casey had brought the baby girl to emergency rooms. They contacted police, who reopened the investigation into Alexander's death, which resulted in the charges.
Casey admitted to police that she had placed a blanket over his mouth for a couple of minutes until he stopped breathing. She also said she may have unconsciously placed her hand over her daughter's mouth and nose to cause her to stop breathing. The baby girl had to be revived.
When asked by investigators why she did this to her children, Casey said she wanted to them to get more attention from the doctors she had been bringing them to, according to the charges brought against her.
'So, so sorry'
At Tuesday's hearing, prosecutor Krista White argued that Casey deserved a longer sentence because she is a risk to others and needs punishment and treatment.
Alexander's father couldn't attend the hearing, but the prosecutor said the boy's father wanted Karasov to know that he believes Casey should be held fully accountable. He also asked the judge to order restitution so he could buy a gravestone for Alexander.
Casey has been out of jail on conditional release since October. Walter and attorney Kellie Charles said they've gotten to know her over the months and have seen her change. She suffered severe trauma as a child and has had little opportunity for help in her life, Walter said.
Casey was too emotional to read from her prepared statement, but Walter spoke for her, saying she was "so, so sorry." She has had positive reports from her therapists and been able to confront her issues, Walter said.
Casey's relatives declined to comment after Tuesday's hearing.
When Karasav articulated his reasons for departing from sentencing guidelines, he spoke of Casey's remorse even amid pressure from her mother, who had said she would disown her daughter if she admitted to committing crimes against the children. Casey's parental rights to her daughter have also been terminated.
After serving her prison term, she will be on probation for 10 years, during which time she will be required to review her case in court annually.
There's a need to balance punishment and public safety, Karasov said.
"We want to make sure you succeed," he said to Casey. "Does all this make sense to you?"
Casey's attorneys then hugged her before she was escorted away in handcuffs.