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Mom who poisoned daughters gets 6 years

Will Grandbois
wgrandbois@postindependent.com
Maria Viviana Alvarado-Gomez
Staff Photo |

For feeding her daughters and herself rat poison last year, Maria Viviana Alvarado-Gomez will serve six years in prison, with just over a year’s credit for time served. After her sentence, she will have five years of mandatory parole.

The sentence falls below the 8- to 16-year recommendation and near the bottom of the 4- to 16-year presumptive range for child abuse through manufacture of a controlled substance, which was reduced from attempted murder as part of a plea agreement.

Alvarado-Gomez, 33, of Carbondale, was arrested on July 1, 2014, after she told her therapist that she had poisoned her daughters the previous morning. She later told police through an interpreter “would rather the children be dead than alive in Mexico,” where she said the girls’ father wanted to take them. She said she got the idea to use rat poison from a television show, according to her arrest affidavit.

The girls, 8 and 11, were taken to Valley View Hospital by ambulance and later released without complications.

Although Alvarado-Gomez chose not to pursue an insanity plea, her defense emphasized her mental health as a mitigating factor and brought in a pair of expert witnesses for support.

Fred “Beau” Washington recounted his interactions with Alvarado-Gomez as a counselor at the Garfield County Jail. There, he observed what he described as “psychotic behavior” — asking if her medication was poison, apologizing for a smell no one else noticed and talking to someone who wasn’t there.

His role discouraged him from inquiring about the crime itself, but psychologist Suzanne Pinto was not so constrained.

According to Pinto, Alvarado-Gomez had a family history of mental illness and a childhood marred by several traumatic events, including sexual assault.

“It made her feel that the world’s an extremely dangerous place, that there were few resources, and that she was very vulnerable,” she said.

‘SAVE THEM FROM SUFFERING’

In the months leading up to her arrest she was placed on antidepressants and even briefly hospitalized for depression. When Alvarado-Gomez decided to kill herself, Pinto explained, she didn’t think her daughters would be safe without her.

“Her belief was that to leave her children put them in imminent danger of being abused,” she said. “She did mean to kill herself and kill them, but she meant to save them from suffering.”

The TV show she got the idea from portrayed the death as a painless sleep, Pinto said, and Alvarado-Gomez fully anticipated being reunited with the girls in heaven.

Deputy District Attorney Jason Slothouber didn’t see the issue of mental health as particularly relevant. He described the incident as “a planned, premeditated and executed attempt by the defendant to kill both of her children.”

“This is not just an act of mercy, as the defense would have you believe,” he said. “This was an act of child abuse. It was an act of attempted murder.”

He argued that there was no basis for Alvarado-Gomez’s fear of abuse, and observed that even after she and her older daughter threw up their drinks, she made no attempt to seek treatment for her younger daughter.

“After the murder-suicide has failed, she knows that something is wrong with her daughter from what she gave her,” he said. “She does nothing.”

“The only reason that we are here on a Class III felony instead of on a mandatory life sentence offense is because she botched the attempt to kill her children,” he added. “This is not some run of the mill negligence child abuse case. This is a very serious case that requires very serious sanction.”

“A lengthy prison sentence is the only way to guarantee that this defendant does not try to kill her daughters again,” he added. “Any parent who can make the decision to kill their children is a continuing danger to those children.”

ONLY A DELUSION?

Public Defender Tina Fang pushed for no prison at all.

“We are asking this court to sentence her to a period of probation,” she said.

Fang raised the possibility that, despite circumstantial evidence including an empty container of rat poison and the girls’ testimony, the poisoning itself was only a delusion.

“Neither child had any evidence of actual rat poison in their system at all,” she said.

Nor was there any attempt to hide the evidence.

“If she had not told her therapist this, no one would have ever found out about it,” said Fang.

She characterized the sentencing recommendation as “a cut-and-paste job” and “a cop-out.”

“It as if the (pre-sentence investigation) writer came to his conclusion before he started writing,” she said.

The main reason the defense accepted the plea, Fang concluded, was to spare the children from a trial.

Alvarado-Gomez herself was the last to address the court.

“I was very ill at that moment,” she said via interpreter. “I just wanted to sleep and not wake up, and I wanted to have my daughters with me. I didn’t want to leave them alone.

“I love my daughters,” she added. “I want them to be OK. Thank God they are OK. I need to see them. I need their forgiveness.”

Judge James Boyd seem inclined to grant some forgiveness. He observed that several letters, including one from the girls’ father, pushed for a sentence to a psychiatric hospital or something like it. Unfortunately, he said, he had only probation and prison from which to choose.

“Your mental illness is both a mitigating factor and an aggravating factor,” Boyd said. “The court has to consider the safety of yourself, the safety of your daughters, and the safety of the community in general … Everything I’ve heard indicates if you were to simply go out into the community today and interact with your children in the way that you would like it is not a safe situation for them. Hopefully it will be someday.”


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