Baby Jamie's mother found guilty of her murder, other charges for abusing her siblings

2018-09-20 19:44
(File, iStock)

(File, iStock)

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In her short life 3-year old Jamie was beaten, starved, burnt with cigarettes, had chilli powder put in her nappy and was tied to her bed at night.

Now her mother, Patricia Kershnee Ishwarlall of Chatsworth, has been found guilty of her murder and a raft of other child abuse charges – crimes which she committed along with her own mother and former co-accused Salatchie Basanich, who died of natural causes earlier this year while awaiting trial in Westville prison.

Ishwarlall, who smiled throughout the long judgment, was also convicted on Thursday by KwaZulu-Natal High Court Judge Mohini Moodley of other child abuse and neglect charges relating to two of Jamie's older siblings – including forcing them to beg on Durban's beachfront. The siblings, who testified against their mother and grandmother, are now in a place of safety.

Ishwarlall and Basanich were arrested in November 2014 after Jamie was discovered dead in her bed, with her emaciated body scarred, bruised and battered.

The day before, Judge Moodley ruled, the toddler had been beaten on the head by her mother with the heels of a pair of high-heeled shoes. Basanich had joined in the beating. The two older siblings testified that they were told to "mop up the blood" from their little sister's "bust" nose.

But expert evidence was that while "blunt head trauma" was the cause of death, a secondary cause was "fatal child abuse" and that Jamie would have soon died from malnutrition.

Children forced to 'hustle'

Ishwarlall pleaded not guilty to all the charges. She claimed she had a mental illness which made her incapable of appreciating the wrongfulness of her actions because she suffered brain damage in a motor vehicle accident in 2001.

She denied hitting her children "except for an occasional spanking for disciplinary purposes" and said she had not been home when Jamie's body was found.

She also blamed her mother for most of the abuse, saying she was scared of her, and her mother hated Jamie because she was "coloured".

But the children – and the evidence – told a different story.

Evidence was that Jamie and her siblings had been placed in the care of their grandmother by the children's court and, at some point, Ishwarlall had also returned home to live in the same house with a new baby.

The older children – who Judge Moodley said were good, honest witnesses – described how she would force them to accompany her to the beachfront to "hustle" for money and that sometimes they slept overnight in a shelter.

They both described assaults on themselves – including being burned with an iron. The son said he had first run away from home at age seven. Their mother called them "bastard" and "bitches".

Ishwarlall denied it all. But under cross-examination she became vague and, the judge said, often used her "fall back excuse" that her children had been told what to say in court, and that someone else had taught them how to beg.

Jamie would 'beg and cry for food'

She claimed she never saw the serious scars and injuries on Jamie because, by the time she returned in the evenings, the child was already in bed.

With regards to cigarette burns on her ears, she said she believed these were chickenpox and measles scars.

While she saw her mother tie Jamie to the bed, put chilli in her nappy and "banging her and throwing her on the floor," she said she "feared for her own life".

Judge Moodley said this was all "highly improbable" and rejected it as false.

With regards to the malnutrition, the judge said it was "stark", and the older children had testified that Jamie would often beg and cry for food, but would be denied it.

Dealing with issues of culpability, Judge Moodley said she was satisfied that Ishwarlall knew the difference between right and wrong even though she had a mild intellectual disability and had the mental capacity of a 16-year-old.

'She knew it was wrong'

She also ruled that she had the ability to appreciate the wrongfulness of her actions and could "process" this.

For example, Moodley said, she knew it was unlawful to use her children to beg, she hid when social workers visited the house because she was not supposed to be there, she knew it was wrong to burn a child, even by accident, and she knew it was wrong to take "drugs" in front of the children.

On the murder charge, Moodley said at the time Ishwarlall beat Jamie on the head with her high-heeled shoes, she must have been aware of her "emaciated state" but she had hit her nonetheless.

"She must have seen the blood but neither this nor Jamie's cries of pain had any impact on her. The doctor certified that the injuries he found were a clear indication of the force and violence of blows to the child's head.

"She was well aware that Jamie was small, only three years old, slight in build and vulnerable because of beatings, abuse and malnutrition.

"Even someone functioning at the level of a 16/17-year-old would have seen the possibility that such a vicious assault with a sharp instrument could result in death."

Sentencing proceedings will begin next month.

Read more on:    durban  |  child abuse

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