A judge sentenced a Lansdowne mother to four years in prison after she pleaded guilty to reduced charges of abuse and neglect in connection to the attempted drowning of her small children. Isabel Sherr had faced two counts of attempted murder, but accepted a plea agreement in August, which resulted in the reduced jail time.
Circuit Court Judge Thomas Horne, last Tuesday, ordered a five-year incarceration for each of the two counts, to run consecutively, and suspended six of those years. Sherr's history of mental illness was a factor in the decision. According to court documents, Sherr was diagnosed on an inpatient basis for postpartum depression after the birth of her first child.
The Loudoun County Department of Mental Health Services will prepare a post-release supervision plan.
According to court documents, on April 21 Sherr was found bleeding in a stairwell outside her home. She had jumped out of a second-story window. At the time, she said she had drowned her two children, a 4-year-old and a 19-month-old. All three survived the incident.
Initially she was charged with two counts of attempted capital murder. On Aug. 25, she pleaded guilty to two felony counts of abuse and neglect of children. She faced a maximum sentence of 15 years under the original charges.
SHERR'S ATTORNEY, Alexander Levay, said he disagreed with the sentence. "We are not supposed to punish our mentally ill," he said. According to court documents, Levay argued Sherr is no longer a threat to society and should not be sentenced to a prison term.
"Her release from Central State Hospital is proof in and of itself that she is no longer a danger to herself and others," the documents read. Sherr was treated in Central State Hospital from May 13 to Sept. 1. Levay added mothers with postpartum depression can fully recover when properly treated with medication and counseling.
Assistant Commonwealth Attorney Sean Morgan said he thinks the sentence is an appropriate one. He said Daniel Sherr, Isabel's husband, raised concerns about what the impact on the children would be if Isabel Sherr had contact with them.
According to the court documents Daniel Sherr never feared for the safety of his wife or his children until the incident, despite her previous diagnosis of postpartum depression. If anything, he felt Isabel Sherr was sometimes overprotective.
According to court documents, at approximately 10:30 a.m. on April 21, Loudoun County Sheriff deputies responded to a 911 call at the 43700 block of Red House Drive. They found Isabel Sherr bleeding in a stairwell outside her residence. She had jumped from the second-story window of her home. She said she had drowned her children. The deputies found two children, a 4-year-old and a 19-month-old, in a bathtub dressed in bathing suits. The bathtub was wet, but drained of water. The 4-year-old told the investigators Isabel Sherr held his head under water, and then left him and his sister in the bathtub after draining it. The investigators also found a suicide note to her husband who was out of the country at the time.
ISABEL SHERR'S friends wrote letters to Horne asking him to spare her from the prison sentence.
"I have not once seen her lose her temper, disrespect another or even dare harm another person," read the letter by Tracy Martin, a friend of nine years. "I have no doubt that Isabel would be in the predicament she is currently in if we had a supportive medical and insurance system," the letter read.
Levay also argued, according to the documents, Isabel Sherr, despite having taken an overdose of Tylenol PM at the time, saved her children by draining the bathtub. "This tragedy has made Mrs. Sherr ultimately stronger and better able to be a good parent and a good citizen," the documents read.
James Maddux, the director of clinical psychology at George Mason University, found it hard to comment on the sentence, because he had not followed the case and he did not perform a psychological examination of the defendant.
"Whether or not a person who is experiencing depression should be held responsible for his or her actions depends primarily on the severity of the depression and the specific symptoms of that depression," he said. Maddux said some severe depressions include psychotic features, a difficulty perceiving reality accurately. Given the prison sentence, he said, he assumes the defendant was found able to understand her actions.
According to a federal government Web site for Women's Health, www.womenshealth.gov, postpartum depression symptoms include sadness, anxiety and worthlessness among other things. Postpartum psychosis symptoms include hallucinations and having obsessive thoughts about the baby.