Münchausen, She Wrote: Mother Convicted of Killing Her Son and Poisoning Her Daughter Receives Pair of Life Sentences

Aug 13, 2009 at 12:10 pm
St. Louis Circuit Court Judge Jack Garvey this morning sent Judy Pickens away for two life sentences in prison, to run consecutively. Garvey also sentenced Pickens to an additional 157 years, to run consecutively after the two life sentences.

Judy Pickens' booking photo upon her arrest for murder in February 2006 - St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department
St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department
Judy Pickens' booking photo upon her arrest for murder in February 2006
Pickens (the subject of a recent Riverfront Times feature story, "Münchausen, She Wrote") was convicted of second-degree murder and five other felonies by a St. Louis jury on June 19. A five-day trial revealed that the 38-year-old mother of three had poisoned her four-year-old son, Mikal, and five-year-old daughter, Kheematah, with her blood-pressure medication. Mikal died as a patient at St. Louis Children's Hospital on October 9, 2004. Kheematah survived repeated poisonings, according to court testimony.

"This child died a junkie's death, with blocked lungs, lungs like he worked in a coal mine," said Garvey in court today. "There was no other conclusion to draw, and this needs to be said: Children's Hospital did not kill this child. The mother killed this child."

It was an emotional morning, with five of Pickens' friends and relatives expressing their belief in her innocence and asking Garvey for mercy. Said her husband, Karl Pickens: "I still say my wife has not done nothing to my kids."

Rev. Beulah Brandon, pastor at Trinity Full Gospel Church, said Judy Pickens was a model for other parents in the congregation. For years, said Brandon, "She's been working on programs for parents who just didn't know how to be parents and didn't want to be parents."

Pickens professed her innocence to the judge in a quiet and tearful speech. "I don't think [the jury was] given enough from my side," she said. "I know I did not do this."

But Garvey didn't buy it.

"Children's Hospital took these children in and devoted some of their smartest people and some of the best health-care professionals this area can offer," said the judge. "They thought they were fighting disease. They weren't. They were fighting Ms. Pickens."

Garvey acknowledged Pickens' relatives, saying he has never seen a more supportive or loving family in a courtroom "especially in a case like this," but added that Pickens' relatives must accept "the overwhelming evidence" against Judy Pickens.

"To hang onto the idea that this hospital killed this child is fantasy," concluded Garvey. "And you need to leave that fantasy, both for the memory of Mikal and for his sister."

Prosecutor Shirley Rogers had offered Münchausen syndrome by proxy as a possible motive in the children's poisoning. Considered a form of child abuse, as opposed to a mental illness, Münchausen by proxy refers to a caregiver, often a mother, who inflicts harm or death upon someone in order to gain attention and sympathy -- to appear a hero. The condition is considered a controversial diagnosis in the medical community.

In Pickens' case, a St. Louis psychologist, Michael Armour, who conducted a psychological examination of Pickens, determined she had engaged in Münchausen syndrome by proxy, according to court records. It is the first case in Missouri in which testimony on Münchausen syndrome by proxy has been allowed as a motive. 

Pickens plans to appeal.