Friend: NY mother accused of killing autistic son driven ‘crazy’ by inability to cure him

By Verena Dobnik, AP
Thursday, February 25, 2010

Friend: NY mom had obsessed over dead son’s autism

NEW YORK — Gigi Jordan quit a high-powered job as a pharmaceutical company executive and abandoned her social life to devote all her time to her severely autistic son.

For most of his tortured life, Jude Michael Mirra repeatedly banged his head on the floor, screaming and unable to speak, writhing in pain. His mother, trained as a nurse, went to exhaustive lengths to help the 8-year-old, desperate for a cure.

But nothing worked. Her only child is dead now — by her own hands, according to police.

After years of struggling — with his autism and her inability to help him — Gigi Jordan gave up. To those who knew her, she was a loving, overprotective single mother who snapped under incredible strain. To prosecutors, she was a killer.

Jordan, 49, twice-divorced and living in New York, brought her only child to the Peninsula Hotel on Manhattan’s Fifth Avenue on Feb. 3. She paid cash for two nights in a $2,300-a-night suite. After posting a “Do Not Disturb” sign on the door, she double-locked it and jammed it with a chair.

Inside, prosecutors say she fed Jude a fatal overdose of various prescription drugs and took pills herself. Two days later, police alerted by a concerned relative burst in and found her semiconscious on the floor, “babbling incoherently,” with a faint pulse. Her son lay dead in his pajamas, face up on the bed.

Hundreds of prescription pills were strewn around the bedroom, police said.

In what was meant to be a suicide note, Jordan suggested she was driven by mercy: Jude was “in constant pain,” she wrote. “I hope Jude is in a better place.” A person familiar with the investigation who wasn’t authorized to release the note publicly spoke of it to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity.

As an ambulance rushed her to an emergency room, she asked for an attorney.

From the jail ward of a Queens hospital, Jordan was arraigned via video link on Feb. 16 on charges of second-degree murder. She pleaded not guilty.

Her attorney, Gerald Shargel, told the court there was a “very viable psychiatric defense” for Jordan, saying she shouldn’t be held criminally responsible for her son’s death because of her mental state. He declined to elaborate.

“This is one of the saddest cases I’ve ever seen,” Shargel said outside the courthouse.

Assistant District Attorney Kerry O’Connell argued that Jude’s death “was completely premeditated.” She cited Jordan’s “articulate” written explanation for what she did, a document which “took her obviously a long time.”

A dermatologist and longtime friend, Dr. Marcus Conant, said Jordan confided in him as she tried desperately to fight Jude’s autism.

Her life became “an obsession with her inability to help the child she loved. It literally drove her crazy,” said Conant, who couldn’t imagine her ever harming the child. She was “brilliant,” Conant said, going to “incredible ends,” studying the latest medical literature and consulting with leading experts.

That obsession with finding a cure even drove her to Children’s Memorial Hospital in Chicago, where Jude underwent a rare umbilical cord blood stem-cell transplant on April 30, 2007. It didn’t work. Jude’s pain and screams persisted.

About one in 110 U.S. children have autism, a spectrum of neurological disorders that affect communication and social interaction. While there are no medications that can cure autism, studies show that early identification and intervention can improve long-term outcomes.

With her wealth, Jordan could have hired expert care for the boy but “we had no nannies,” Jude’s father, Emil Tzekov, told the New York Daily News. “She could afford them, but she wanted to do everything herself. She made sure all his food was perfect, that he was sleeping so many hours. Everything.”

At one point, she considered sending him to a school for autistic children in California.

Instead, Jordan moved, Conant said.

“Perhaps she was overprotective,” he added, not fully entrusting her son to anyone.

“She was looking for a cure, for a miracle,” said Conant.

Jordan was convinced two years ago that members of a devil-worshipping cult were violently abusing the boy. She sought out a Wyoming sex-crimes investigator she saw on television, Flint Waters, and brought the child to see him — even though Wyoming authorities had discouraged her visit.

Cheyenne police detective Tom Hood said authorities placed her in emergency detention there for a psychiatric evaluation “to make sure she was not a danger to her son, herself or other people.” When she was determined to be no threat, Hood said, she was reunited with her son.

Autistic children often “cannot express pain or discomfort through speech,” says Dr. Timothy Buie, an autism expert at Harvard Medical School who works at Boston’s Massachusetts General Hospital for Children. Many suffer a sensory processing disorder, Buie said, so that even an earache or an upset stomach “is profoundly magnified.” They communicate distress by screaming, head-banging, even harming themselves, he said.

“Some people can’t stand a child who cries for an hour,” said Conant. “Can you imagine living with a child who’s been screaming for eight years?”

Some parents of autistic children who try everything and still fail to improve their child’s condition reach a breaking point, said Cammie McGovern, an Amherst, Mass., author with a 13-year-old autistic son. Some take their distress to the extreme, she said, ending their child’s life and taking their own.

That was Jordan’s goal, police said.

“It’s so lonely to love a child who is unable to express that back,” said McGovern, whose novel “Eye Contact” examines the relationship between a mother and an autistic son.

“You are driven to the loneliest place on earth, facing what feels like a failure with a child you haven’t saved — and you’ve believed with all your heart that if you worked hard enough you could,” said McGovern.

Conant, who said he never thought Jordan could hurt Jude, believes her obsession was “a control issue, the feeling that she would be the one to save that child, almost a salvation quest.”

He said he met Jordan 15 years ago through pharmaceutical industry mogul Raymond A. Mirra Jr., managing member of the RAM Capital Group and other health care ventures. Jordan and Mirra, whom she married in 1998, amassed a fortune running their companies.

While still married to Mirra, Jordan became pregnant by Tzekov, a Bulgarian-born yoga instructor in Santa Barbara, Calif. Mirra adopted the baby, promising him financial security and in return, Tzekov signed away custody rights.

Jordan divorced Mirra in November 2001, according to public records in Nevada.

Six days later, she married Tzekov. A photo from that time shows a happy threesome, with a curly-haired, smiling Jude sitting between his smiling mother and beaming, handsome father.

But in 2006, Jordan and Tzekov divorced, and by 2007, she forbade him from seeing Jude.

Tzekov’s next contact with his son was in a Manhattan morgue.

When he heard about his death, Tzekov was stunned.

“I cannot understand,” he told the News, his eyes welling with tears. “Gigi was a loving mother. She was not a killer.”

Associated Press writer Colleen Long contributed to this report.

(This version CORRECTS SUBS 36th graf to correct year to 2006, sted 2005)

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