February 18, 1995 in Nation/World

Woman Pleads Guilty To Killing Her Infant Son Experts Say Disorder Drove Her To Harm Children

William Miller Staff writer
 

A Spokane mother who smothered her infant sons - killing one and damaging the other’s brain - faces up to 16 years in prison.

In a scarcely audible whisper, Stephanie Adell Pasicznyk pleaded guilty Friday to second-degree murder and second-degree assault.

The 26-year-old defendant plans to have herself sterilized so she can never give birth to another victim.

“I fear for any children I may have,” she said in a jail interview.

In court, she dabbed her eyes with a tissue as Spokane County Deputy Prosecutor Ed Hay gave a chilling account of the murder. Much of it was in the defendant’s own words, recited from her diary.

Pasicznyk (pronounced “Paz-nik”) smothered her boys numerous times, at least once with a piece of plastic wrap, then frantically called paramedics to report dire “breathing problems,” Hay said.

Experts believe Pasicznyk, a former housewife and daycare operator, suffers from Munchausen’s syndrome by proxy, a rare psychological disorder in which a parent, usually a mother, is driven to harm children to get attention and sympathy.

Although Kyle and Jason Pasicznyk were born years apart, their torture was identical.

They were rushed to hospitals, where puzzled doctors put them through grueling gauntlets of medical tests - always inconclusive.

Each time, the young mother would root herself at the child’s bedside, hoping and praying for a full, speedy recovery.

Whether she intended to kill her first son, 8-month-old Kyle, on Dec. 4, 1989, remains unclear.

Pasicznyk and her lawyer suggest the death was accidental. In a written confession, she admits picking up the sleeping child and smothering him for several minutes.

“Then I realized I went too far.”

The mother tried unsuccessfully to revive the boy, then called 911. Once again, Kyle was loaded into an ambulance. But this time attempts to save him were unsuccessful.

Doctors could not explain the death. Denied permission by the family to conduct an autopsy, they came up with a label, not a diagnosis: sudden infant death syndrome.

The boy, dressed in his sleeper, was lowered into his Peone Cemetery grave in a tiny coffin. The grieving young mother evoked enormous sympathy from friends and relatives.

After two miscarriages, Pasicznyk gave birth to Jason on June 1, 1992.

When the child was 16 months old, he began showing up at the hospital. He was having trouble breathing, the mother reported.

Like many times before, she was the only witness to the sudden “attacks.”

Suspecting abuse, but having no evidence of physical injury, doctors sent the child to Children’s Hospital in Seattle, where a specialist concluded the mother was the sick one.

In October 1993, the murder investigation began. Kyle’s body was exhumed, but the autopsy was inconclusive.

Pasicznyk did not cooperate with detectives, but it hardly mattered. She wound up convicting herself.

Hay said the woman was so haunted by “memories and flashbacks” of the attacks on her sons that she began confessing to friends and therapists. She was arrested May 10 in the Spokane Valley, while headed to her therapist’s office.

One of the biggest breaks in the case came when police seized her private journals. In her own handwriting, Pasicznyk admitted to the abuse and wished herself dead because of it.

Friday morning, when those entries were read aloud, the emotional impact slapped spectators in the courtroom gallery.

Even Superior Court Judge Tari Eitzen shuddered and had to fight off tears.

“It’s almost impossible for most people to understand how parental feeling can go so awry,” Hay said afterward.

The plea bargain reduced the charges from first-degree murder and attempted first-degree murder.

Pasicznyk, who never had so much as a speeding ticket before, now faces 12 to 16 years in prison.

Hay said he will seek a 12-year prison term at sentencing March 24 if the defendant has proof of being permanently sterilized.

Attorneys on both sides, and Pasicznyk herself, stressed the operation is strictly voluntary.

“It’s my choice, my decision,” she said Thursday.

Pasicznyk said still can’t remember much about smothering her sons, but she knows she alone is responsible.

“I’m pleading guilty because there’s a good case against me,” she said. “I’ve weighed all my options and I’ve prayed a lot. It’s time for everyone to go on with their lives, including me.”

Her attorney, Stephen Reich, doubts if she will ever find peace.

“She’s someone who has a life sentence regardless of the amount of time she’s incarcerated,” he said. “She’s like a Vietnam veteran - someone who will always be in pain.”

Police Detective Greg Harshman, whose investigative report on the bizarre case covers 3,500 pages, refused to comment.

Under the unusually severe conditions attached to the plea bargain, Pasicznyk is prohibited for life from being alone with young children, or seeing her surviving son.

Jason, now 2 years old, suffers from cerebral palsy caused when the supply of oxygen feeding his brain was cut off for precious seconds. He lives with his father, who divorced Pasicznyk during the criminal investigation.

She describes herself as “nonviolent” and “a kind-hearted person.”

As a high school senior, she served as a volunteer, caring for disabled children at Interlake School.

After Kyle’s death, she did volunteer work at Holy Family Hospital. And she ran an “infants only” daycare center in her north Spokane home for two years until Jason was born.

There are only about 250 confirmed cases of Munchausen’s syndrome by proxy worldwide, experts say.

It is named after the 18th-Century German Baron Von Munchausen, a famous liar.

Munchausen’s syndrome is a disorder in which the sufferer inflicts selfinjury or brings about symptoms of illness in order to receive medical treatment.

But in the syndrome “by proxy,” a parent induces the symptoms in a child as a means for the parent to gain attention.

Pasicznyk said she hopes to continue her treatment while behind bars. She may be searching for answers that prove unanswerable: how an otherwise caring mother could become a child-killer.

“The not knowing and the not understanding is what’s difficult,” she said.

MEMO: This sidebar appeared with story: Release terms When child-killer Stephanie Pasicznyk is released from prison, she will be supervised for life by the Washington Department of Corrections. The unusual life-long conditions imposed Friday: No contact with her surviving son, Jason. No contact with children age 5 or younger without an approved “chaperon.” No employment in places where there are elderly, sick or developmentally disabled people.

This sidebar appeared with story: Release terms When child-killer Stephanie Pasicznyk is released from prison, she will be supervised for life by the Washington Department of Corrections. The unusual life-long conditions imposed Friday: No contact with her surviving son, Jason. No contact with children age 5 or younger without an approved “chaperon.” No employment in places where there are elderly, sick or developmentally disabled people.


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