NYC prosecutor: Mom accused of killing son had illness-inventing disorder; defense disputes

Friday, March 19, 2010

NYC prosecutor: Mom accused of murder had disorder

NEW YORK — A prosecutor suggested Friday that a mother accused of killing her autistic 8-year-old son in an apparent murder-suicide attempt had a mental problem that spurs people to seek attention by inventing illnesses for their loved ones.

The mother, Gigi Jordan, told authorities that besides autism, which doctors said was severe, her son had been the victim of abuse. She repeated that claim, and suggested he had symptoms possibly linked to other medical conditions, in an apparent suicide note her lawyer made public last week.

Jordan’s lawyer disputed the claim by the prosecutor, who said sealed psychiatric records on Jordan showed a diagnosis of Munchausen syndrome by proxy. Sufferers seek unneeded medical care for people in their care.

“I want to dispel the court of the notion that (Jordan’s) entire life has been devoted to taking care of this child,” Manhattan Assistant District Attorney Kerry O’Connell said as Jordan appeared before a judge in her murder case. “Professionals have diagnosed her with Munchausen syndrome by proxy.”

Defense lawyer Gerald Shargel questioned the basis for O’Connell’s remark. He said Jordan, a multimillionaire former pharmaceutical executive, truly strove to help her boy as she traveled the country seeking care for him.

“Ms. Jordan was doing everything she possibly could do, with her skills as a nurse and her devotion and care as a mother, to help that child in every way she could,” Shargel said. “It was devotion, it was dedication, it was love.”

He and prosecutors declined to give any details about the psychiatric records, though O’Connell indicated they included documents from a 2008 hospitalization.

Jordan has pleaded not guilty and is being held without bail in a psychiatric ward at a jail hospital. Shargel is trying to persuade a judge to release her on $5 million bail to a private psychiatric hospital. He says she needs more intense care than he believes she can get in the jail hospital. Prosecutors say she’ll get proper care in the jail ward.

A judge may rule on the defense request April 8, when Jordan is next due in court.

In 2008, authorities in Cheyenne, Wyo., said they placed Jordan in emergency detention for a psychiatric evaluation, after she sought out a sex-crimes investigator and told him her son had been abused. She was released a few days later.

Munchausen syndrome by proxy is rare, and its cause is unknown, according to the National Institutes of Health’s National Library of Medicine.

Sufferers, usually mothers, dedicate themselves to caring for their seemingly sick children or other loved ones, often to attract sympathy and attention, according to the library and other medical literature.

Caregivers — sometimes health care professionals themselves — often subject the patients to unneeded tests and operations. Some even take steps to induce symptoms.

Jordan made a fortune in the drug industry before quitting her work to seek care for her son, Jude Michael Mirra, who repeatedly banged his head on the floor and was unable to speak. Friends said her determination to help him became an obsession, driving her to such lengths as arranging a rare umbilical cord blood stem-cell transplant for him in 2007.

The twice-divorced mother and her son lived at her homes around the country. She owned apartments and a brownstone in Manhattan alone.

But authorities say she fed her son a fatal dose of various prescription drugs and apparently took pills herself in a suite at the posh Peninsula Hotel on Fifth Avenue, authorities said. He was found dead and she incoherent, on Feb. 5.

“I can’t bear to watch my son live this life,” she wrote in a letter police found on her computer. In it, she suggested his communication and other problems were the result of “trauma and abuse” at the hands of various people.

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