A Victoria woman who placed shards of glass in a jar of baby food and fed it to her infant son with the intention of suing a baby food company has been sentenced to 18 months in jail followed by 18 months of probation.
Rayanne Longhurst, 24, pleaded guilty to aggravated assault by endangering the life of her eight-month-old son on Aug. 21, 2012.
“The victim here was an infant child, trusting of his mother and utterly defenceless to her unlawful acts,” Judge Evan Blake said as he passed sentence. “The public is quite rightly shocked by behaviour which victimizes children, and such behaviour needs to be denounced in the strongest possible way by the courts.”
Admissions of fact read into the court record in December revealed that on Aug. 21, 2012, Longhurst fed her eight-month-old son pieces of glass, then took him to hospital and told doctors he had accidentally eaten glass. Doctors examined the boy and took X-rays of his abdomen that showed foreign objects in his colon.
When the baby had a bowel movement, staff found two pieces of glass in his stool. A test also showed there was bleeding in his colon. The baby was taken into the care of the Ministry of Children and Family Development, and Longhurst was asked to leave the hospital.
Longhurst refused to leave without the open container of baby food containing the glass pieces. She said her lawyer needed it because she planned to sue the baby food company, the admissions say.
The baby was not injured in any serious way and did not require surgery. However, the glass could have cut his digestive system and he could have suffered serious injury or death.
A year earlier, on April 25, 2011, Longhurst and her partner had taken their eight-month-old daughter to hospital and told doctors the girl had eaten glass in a jar of baby food, the admissions say.
The couple sued the baby food company and settled out of court for $22,000, according to the admissions signed by Longhurst.
Crown prosecutor Clare Jennings did not suggest that the 2011 incident with the baby girl was a deliberate act by Longhurst. That information was introduced to prove that Longhurst fed glass to the second baby for financial compensation, which would be an aggravating factor at sentencing.
But after pleading guilty, Longhurst denied to her psychologist and the writer of the pre-sentence report that she intentionally fed glass to the baby.
Her sentencing hearing, which began in December, was adjourned until Wednesday to allow two doctors, a nurse and a social worker to testify about Longhurst’s behaviour at the hospital. They said that Longhurst seemed calm and was very concerned about holding on to the baby food container with glass to take to her lawyer.
After hearing the four witnesses, Blake concluded it was “crystal clear” that Longhurst’s motivation was financial.
Longhurst has significant mental challenges, learning disabilities and confused thought processes, and suffers from significant depression, Blake noted. Her general intelligence level is at the sixth percentile, he said.
“In many cases, the endangerment of a child’s life in hopes of financial gain would be perceived as utterly callous and malicious,” Blake said. “In Ms. Longhurst’s case, that perception has to be tempered with an understanding of her confusion and her limited functioning capacity.”
He accepted that Longhurst did not want to harm her child, but endangering him was “merely a step that had to be taken” for her to obtain financial compensation.
The probation officer and psychologist had trouble extracting the truth about the incident and about Longhurst’s life in general, Blake noted. This has made it difficult to assess her risk of further violence.
“There is no doubt that whatever her intellectual shortcomings may be, Ms. Longhurst has already suffered considerably from her criminal act,” Blake said. “She no longer has care of any of her three children and can only access them on a limited basis.”