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Mom kept meds from cancer-ridden autistic son

A Massachusetts mother has been convicted of attempted murder for withholding cancer medications from her autistic son. The jury also found Kristen LaBrie, of Salem, guilty of reckless child endangerment, and assault and battery.

Jeremy Fraser was just 9 years old when he died of leukemia in 2009. Now, a jury has found his mother guilty of withholding his chemotherapy medication for at least five months of his treatment, CBS News correspondent Michelle Miller reported.

Prosecutor Kate MacDougall said during court proceedings, "He had an 85 to a 90 percent chance of a cure, and she took that from him."

Jeremy's doctor testified he'd been responding well to the medicine.

Dr. Alison Friedmann, of Mass. General Hospital, said, "Did I really think it was going OK and I reassured her that I thought, 'Yes, it was.'"

But when Kristen LaBrie took the stand, she said the medicine made her son suffer even more.

LaBrie said, "He was very, very sick, and I was afraid, and I did not want to have to make him get any more sick."

During the week-long trial, prosecutors painted a picture of LaBrie as a single mother who resented having to care for her severely autistic son on her own. But the defense argued that while she was depressed and overwhelmed, she did nothing to intentionally harm him.

It took less than seven hours for the jury to deliberate her fate. LaBrie was found guilty of attempted murder. Outside the court, her sister continued to defend her.

LaBrie's sister Elizabeth O'Keefe said, "It's too hard for them to know what my sister was going through. I don't think my sister had any intentions of hurting Jeremy ever."

LaBrie faces up to 38 years in prison when she's sentenced on Friday.

For more on this case, "The Early Show" turned to psychologist and contributor Dr. Jennifer Hartstein and attorney and child advocate Kevin Ryan, president of the child care agency Covenant House.

Co-anchor Erica Hill remarked, "Her sister made an important point, it's easy to judge from the outside. We never really know what's going on. She had said she was mentally impaired. What would that mean in terms of caring for your child?"

Hartstein replied, "It's hard to know what that means legally, but for caring for your child she was depressed, feeling overwhelmed. She has an intensely special needs child, severely autistic, couldn't communicate in effective ways, already stressed out. Add to that cancer treatments and that adds more depression, more feelings of being overwhelmed. She's not going to make the most effective decisions because of all of this on her head. We don't know what help she had. So many questions we have to let her answer for herself."

There wasn't a lot of detail given on what happened in terms of what was happening at the home with the child, Hill noted. Should there have perhaps been more help for this mother?

"It's a heartbreaking case," Ryan said. "The jury had to ferret out the tale of two Kristens: Was she an overwhelmed mom struggling to care for this profoundly disabled child who was cancer stricken, or a self-centered, self-absorbed mother bitter about having to do this on her own, who lied to doctors over and over and over again and said she was getting Jeremy the care he needed and she wasn't?

"And she offered three different explanations in her testimony. She said she was overwhelmed and depressed, and then she also said she thought her son had been cured, and talked about the fact (that the medication) was making him sicker. That tacking from place to place to place ultimately convinced the jury that she recklessly and wantonly disregarded this little boy's care."

As for official care of the boy, Ryan said it looks like the hospital believed LaBrie was giving her son the care he needed.

Ryan said, "His chemo-therapeutic treatment occurred over the course of a year and a half. It was five phases. And it was only in the last phase, the mom in the last five months said she was getting him the care he needed and she wasn't that they began to get concerned. When she showed up with him at the hospital he had gray pallor and he was splotching and his lymph nodes were swollen. And (a doctor) who testified at the trial said something was really wrong here."

Hartstein added, "Somewhere, something got missed. This mom was overwhelmed. She might have been a narcissistic woman who just couldn't do it anymore. ... Who knows what the real reason was? But somewhere this boy was neglected, he dropped through the cracks and didn't get what he needed."

Hill asked Hartstein if people in such circumstances are made aware of what support is available to them.

"Not as much as they probably need to be," Hartstein said. "To be truthful, navigating systems is a job in and of itself. She probably knew how to navigate a lot of the systems already but the social worker at the hospital, someone else needed to step in and help her more."

Ryan added, "People think the only way to get help for a family is to call a child abuse and neglect hotline and report them so they'll get investigated. They're less likely to reach out and help everyone than if they know there's a system designed to help and strengthen families. The one thing Jeremy needed was an adult who would walk with him and be that safety net. ... Government will not replace that, community is not going to replace that - has to be the family. In this instance it's tragic, but she didn't do it."

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