Trial starts for Mass. mom accused of denying meds

AP News
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Posted: Apr 05, 2011 7:18 PM
Trial starts for Mass. mom accused of denying meds

A Massachusetts woman accused of failing to give chemotherapy treatments to her cancer-stricken, autistic son denied withholding the drugs when confronted by a social worker, saying doing so would be "like pushing him in front of a car."

But a prosecutor used Kristen LaBrie's own words against her Tuesday as her trial began on attempted murder and child endangerment charges.

"She's charged, ladies and gentlemen, in a sense of pushing him in front of that car," Assistant District Attorney Kate MacDougall told jurors in her opening statement.

LaBrie's son, Jeremy Fraser, died in March 2009 at age 9.

Her attorney said LaBrie was an exhausted mother who became overwhelmed when her son suffered side effects of the drugs and that she made a mistake _ but didn't commit a crime _ by not giving him all his prescriptions.

Jeremy was diagnosed with non-Hodgkins lymphoma in 2006, when doctors told LaBrie he had an 85 percent to 90 percent chance of being cured with a two-year, five-phase treatment plan of chemotherapy.

After months of treatment, his cancer went into remission. But in February 2008, doctors discovered his cancer had returned in the form of leukemia.

MacDougall said doctors checked with LaBrie's pharmacy and found that she had not filled five months' worth of prescriptions for chemotherapy drugs. During regular visits to Massachusetts General Hospital, LaBrie assured her doctors that she had been giving him the drugs, MacDougall said.

When confronted about the pharmacy records, LaBrie said the pharmacy must have made a billing error, MacDougall said.

LaBrie, of Salem, is not charged with killing her son.

No one will ever know if the two-year treatment plan, if strictly adhered to, would have cured Jeremy, MacDougall said. But she said LaBrie's decision to withhold treatment "created a substantial risk of death."

She painted a picture of a woman who appeared to be a devoted mother but was a woman who "seethed with resentment" after the boy's father, Eric Fraser, left her and her son when the boy was 3. She was left to care for the boy by herself and "needed to make the world believe her life was a little more difficult than it was," MacDougall said.

LaBrie's lawyer, Kevin James, told jurors that Jeremy was "severely autistic" and required constant care.

After the boy's father left, LaBrie took care of the boy by herself, even after he was diagnosed with cancer, James said.

For the first four phases of his cancer treatment, LaBrie followed the instructions of Jeremy's doctors, bringing him to countless medical appointments and giving him medication at home, James said.

But LaBrie did not realize that the side effects of the drugs he was taking would cause him pain and make him ill for prolonged periods of time, he said.

"She really thought the medication _ the cure _ was beyond what Jeremy could tolerate," James said.

Exhausted and overwhelmed, LaBrie made a decision _ "not made consciously" _ to stop giving him the medication, James said. He called her decision "a tragic mistake," but not a crime.

Dr. Alison Friedmann, Jeremy's oncologist at Massachusetts General Hospital, said the boy appeared to be doing well during his first four phases of treatment. Friedmann said LaBrie told her a couple of times that Jeremy was having trouble taking one of the medications she was giving him at home, so she prescribed a liquid instead of a tablet. After that, she said LaBrie never expressed concern about the three medications she was instructed to give him and never told her she had stopped.

In February 2008, Jeremy went to the hospital with a bad cough and fever. Friedman said she "had a funny feeling" and called LaBrie's pharmacy to see if she had picked up all her son's prescriptions.

Friedman said the pharmacist said that during the previous eight months, LaBrie had picked up only three months' worth of the chemotherapy medications.

"I believe that it increased his risk of his cancer coming back," Friedman said.

Friedman said doctors discovered the cancer had returned as leukemia.

Jeremy went to live with his father for the last year of his life. Eric Fraser was killed in a motorcycle accident about seven months after his son died.

Testimony in the case resumes Wednesday.