Skip to main content

The Globe and Mail

Edmonton mom who drowned her seven-year-old not criminally responsible, judge finds

Rafal Ger/for The Globe and Mai

A judge has found an Edmonton mother who drowned her seven-year-old son in the family bathtub not criminally responsible in the boy's death.

Nerlin Sarmiento admitted in court documents that she killed Omar Jajoy. But the 32-year-old pleaded not guilty to a charge of first-degree murder, arguing she had a mental disorder.

Justice Sterling Sanderman said that while children "don't anticipate betrayal" from their parents, Sarmiento was sick.

Story continues below advertisement

"She didn't appreciate the act was morally wrong," the judge ruled. "She felt this was a proper thing to do – a righteous decision."

Psychiatrists believed Sarmiento had deluded herself into thinking Omar was better off in heaven when she drowned the boy.

Dr. Curtis Woods testified Friday that Sarmiento was having a major depressive episode as part of her bipolar disorder when she killed the boy at the family's apartment in February.

He told court that Sarmiento believed she was worthless, couldn't provide for her family and wanted to save her son from a life of poverty and suffering.

"Killing her son was an altruistic measure to spare him from the anticipated suffering and send him to a better place," Woods said.

"She saw her actions to be morally righteous."

Medical reports show Sarmiento was admitted to hospital four times in the two years before she drowned her son.

Story continues below advertisement

As early as July, 2011, she expressed "ideas regarding her safety and the safety of her children" to staff at the Royal Alexandra Hospital.

She also told her husband and mother that she was having dark thoughts about hurting her two children. In late 2012, her mother started spending nights at the family's home to help look after the kids.

But on Feb. 12, after Sarmiento's husband and mother had left for work, Sarmiento sent her 10-year-old daughter off to school and shoved Omar toward the bathroom. She pushed him into the tub and held his head under water for several minutes.

When he stopped moving, she called 911.

Court has heard that in the previous year she also choked her daughter as the girl was lying on a bed. She stopped when the girl questioned what she was doing.

Sarmiento further told police she had thoughts of stabbing and smothering both children and, while at a downtown mall, fantasized about throwing them both over a third-floor railing.

Story continues below advertisement

The day before the drowning, she said she tried to suffocate herself by wrapping a plastic bag over her head. She also tried to hang herself with a rope strung from a bedroom door.

Woods wrote in his report that Sarmiento had a history of resisting oral medication and, at one point, was prescribed monthly drug injections. But she didn't get the shot a month before the killing and did not take other drugs sent home with her by a doctor.

Although she knew killing her son was legally wrong, she truly believed she was doing what was best for him when she killed him, Woods said.

Dr. Vijay Singh also interviewed Sarmiento after the drowning and he included portions of their conversation in his report to the court.

Sarmiento told the doctor: "I thought I did right because [Omar] did not have to deal with a difficult life.

"I thought he must die. He had no future, nothing good ... I thought I was saving the child."

Singh said he is convinced the woman was motivated to kill her child by overwhelming despair and should not be held criminally responsible.

"She felt morally obligated to complete the act with the perception that her son would end up in a better world called heaven and live happily ever after."

Report an error
Comments are closed

We have closed comments on this story for legal reasons. For more information on our commenting policies and how our community-based moderation works, please read our Community Guidelines and our Terms and Conditions.