A single mother-of-three who left her five-month-old daughter in a car on a hot day, where she died from heatstroke, has been found not guilty of manslaughter.
A Supreme Court jury sitting in Bendigo found Jayde Poole, 29, was not criminally negligent for her baby Bella’s death in December 2012.
Ms Poole had returned home with Bella and her six-year-old son after driving a short distance to Hungry Jack’s to buy some takeaway food but left Bella in the car.
She later told police she thought Bella was asleep in her cot.
Crown prosecutor Nicholas Papas, QC, claimed Ms Poole was guilty of “gross negligence” and a breach of her duty of care as a parent by leaving Bella in the car on a 30 degree day.
In his closing address to the jury, Mr Papas said everyone made mistakes but people had to be accountable for their actions.
‘‘This is a very unusual case, in that at this end of the Bar table we pretty much agree that Jayde Poole, the accused, up until the date when she left Bella Poole in the car, had lived a good life, a proper life, and had done her best to look after her children,’’ he said.
‘‘We agree. But on that day when she left Bella in the car, obviously her world turned around, everybody who knew her, and her family, the father of the child, everybody's world was turned upside down.
‘‘That's a fact of life. Is it criminal? Did her conduct on that day, when she left the baby in the child, constitute a criminal offence?’’
Mr Papas said the Crown’s position was that Ms Poole failed to do what was expected of a reasonable mother.
‘‘This is not about moral responsibility, this is about criminal responsibility. There is no question that she had a duty to look after her child.
‘‘The Crown says that that's a very, very, high duty when it's a young child.
‘‘How can a five or six-month old child survive without an attentive parent? Who's going to feed it, who's going to dress it, who's going to take it inside, who's going to take it outside, who's going to give it warmth, who's going to keep it cool.
‘‘Bella's mother had that duty, the accused failed in that duty.’’
Mr Papas urged the jury to ignore evidence from defence witness neuroscientist Professor David Diamond, an expert on memory from the University of South Florida, who claimed the case was similar to a phenomenon known as ‘‘forgotten baby syndrome’’.
The prosecutor said the phenomenon was a theory not a proven medical condition.
Defence barrister Shane Gardner said Ms Poole was a loving, caring, attentive mother who was not normally a forgetful person.
‘‘It's a very hard thing if not an impossible thing to do to say why you forgot something. It necessarily involves some form of speculation, it necessarily involves some form of reconstruction, because the act of forgetting something is not something which is done consciously or deliberately.
‘‘What you've got is a tragedy of a woman who forgot.
‘‘This is an accident for which she will exist in a living hell for the rest of her days.’’
Mr Gardner said Ms Poole had indeed suffered from ‘‘forgotten baby syndrome’’ where her brain had played a trick on her when she was in "auto-pilot" mode on the drive to and from Hungry Jack’s, making her believe Bella was safe in her cot and not in the car.
‘‘No one is more sorry for what happened than she is, and she will have to live with this for the rest of her lifetime, and I am sure you can imagine, but never really, truly know what that is like, unless you ultimately suffer that sort of loss yourself.’’