Sarah Leung, accused of killing newborns in East Vancouver, didn't intend murder: defence lawyer

A jury shouldn't excuse a Vancouver woman in the deaths of two newborn infants she disposed of after giving birth but should find her guilty of a lesser crime, Sarah Leung's lawyer argued at the close of her trial Friday.

Jury to be given final instructions Saturday morning before entering into deliberations

A courtroom sketch from 2010 depicts Sarah Jee-Wah Leung, who is accused of killing her two infant sons in Vancouver in 2009 and 2010. (CBC)

A jury shouldn't excuse a Vancouver woman in the deaths of two newborn infants she disposed of after giving birth but should find her guilty of a lesser crime, Sarah Leung's lawyer argued at the close of her trial Friday.

Defence lawyer Richard Fowler urged the jury to convict the 28-year-old of infanticide, rather than of two charges of second-degree murder, based on the circumstances of her upbringing.

"Sarah's actions are morally blameworthy and are deserving of the community's rebuke," Fowler told the B.C. Supreme Court trial as he wrapped up his closing statements.

"Sarah's actions are also deserving of our understanding," he said.

Leung is accused in two separate deaths that occurred after she delivered her babies a year apart in April 2009 and March 2010.

The baby boys were delivered into the toilet of her family home and then disposed of in plastic bags.

Justice Mary Humphries told the jury she would give them her final instructions on Saturday before they could begin deliberations.

Pregnancy kept hidden, court told

Over the course of the trial, which began mid-February, court has heard that Leung never told her family she was pregnant either time because she was terrified of their reaction.

She saw her boyfriend during the daytime but kept their relationship, and the pregnancy, a secret from her family.

The Crown has sought to prove that Leung murdered her two boys because she was far more scared of her parents' disapproval and its consequences than recognizing the gravity of her actions.

The defence claims that the woman did not intend to kill her babies and was in a disturbed state of mind when she gave birth.

Fowler told the jury there was no certainty either baby was alive when the woman put them in plastic bags. It is possible that having been born in the frigid temperatures of cold toilet water the infants' hearts and lungs might have already ceased working, he argued.

Leung first became pregnant with her boyfriend's child in 2008. Court heard the man thought she was happy about the pregnancies and did not recognize the extent of her fears about her family.

During trial the court heard that after she was arrested she confessed many details to police detectives.

After delivering the first baby early and alone in her family home, she took steps to clean up the blood and hide the evidence. She told her boyfriend she had miscarried.

Paramedics uncovered the first death after Leung's father found an infant body in a clear plastic bag outside the family home and called police. It was later determined through DNA testing to belong to his daughter and her boyfriend.

Second body never found

Leung's second birth followed the same pattern, but the infant was never found. The trial heard she threw the baby in the garbage and the body was believed to have been taken to the city dump.

In his closing statements, Fowler described how the woman was raised by an "abusive and controlling father." He said she was in no way prepared to cope when she got pregnant.

Vancouver police officers are shown in 2010 as they begin investigating a suspected homicide involving a newborn in East Vancouver. (Submitted by Larry Wulff)

"Sarah was trapped between two worlds, the world she wanted and the world she couldn't leave," he said.

He said the woman was not sophisticated, her only ambitions in life were to take care of her parents and brother and that no one appreciated the depth of her fear of being disowned.

Fowler told court the offence he argues Leung committed — infanticide — condemns her actions while making it clear she did not intend to kill the babies.

The Criminal Code defines infanticide as a wilful act or omission by a mother who causes the death of her newly-born child if she is not fully recovered from the effects of giving birth and that causes her mind to be disturbed.

"There were obviously more things she could have done and should have done," Fowler said. "Her inaction was because she was mentally and emotionally in denial and paralyzed with fear."

He told the jury that intention is the difference between murder and manslaughter, asking jury members to call on their "collective wisdom and humanity" to decide a verdict.