By Sebastien Malo
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Socialite Gigi Jordan murdered her autistic son to avoid dealing with his developmental disorder, prosecutors said at the start of her trial on Wednesday, but the defense said it was a mercy killing to protect the boy from being raped by his father.
"She wanted to ease his suffering," Allan Brenner, lead defense attorney for Jordan, a self-made millionaire pharmaceutical executive, told a jury at the state's Supreme Court in Manhattan.
Jordan, 54, is accused of overdosing her 8-year-old son, Jude Mirra, with prescription pills in a ritzy Manhattan hotel room in 2010. If convicted of the only charge against her, second-degree murder, she would face a maximum penalty of life imprisonment.
But her lawyers argued that she killed the boy to save him from sexual torture at the hands of his biological father, Emil Tzekov, a yoga instructor who became her second ex-husband. The boy, who had difficulty expressing himself, told his mother he was being victimized by his father, they said.
"In December of 2007, Jude told his mother that he had been sexually abused," Brenner told the jury. "He said, 'Dad bad, dad bad, dad bad over and over and over again."
Tzekov has denied the accusations and has never been charged.
Jordan's defense team, which also includes such high profile lawyers as Ron Kuby, a bombastic civil rights attorney and radio-show host, and Alan Dershowitz, the prominent Harvard University law professor, has filed legal papers saying she acted out of "altruistic filicide."
In his opening argument, Brenner focused on Jordan's state of mind, telling the jury she was emotionally disturbed by the actions of Tzekov and threatens made by her first husband, Raymond Mirra Jr., a Philadelphia businessman who she said vowed to have her killed or institutionalized.
"You cannot divorce the act from what was going on through my client's mind, the pressures that were being brought to bear on her, the decisions that she took based on those pressures. That's the essence of my defense," Brenner told Reuters outside of court.But Assistant Manhattan District Attorney Matthew Bogdanos told jurors Jordan was very "business-like" in her approach to ending a life that was complicated by autism, bringing pills, a pill crusher and a syringe to the Peninsula Hotel.
"Now that I've told you about what the police had found, surely you are wondering, well how do these things begin?" Bogdanos said.
"Perhaps the events in that hotel room began in late 2004 when that word was first used: autism," he said.
(Editing by Barbara Goldberg and Susan Heavey)