WEST PALM BEACH — A 30-year-old woman on trial for allegedly stabbing her 8-month-old son repeatedly in the chest with a shard of glass was a loving mother who had a psychotic break, a defense attorney told jurors Tuesday.
Wendy Harden suffered the break after prescription painkillers she was taking were abruptly withheld from her, Assistant Public Defender Eunice Baros said in opening statements.
Harden had taken painkillers since having surgery for scoliosis as a teen, but when her husband took them away to prevent her from abusing them, Harden broke with reality, hallucinating and imagining things, Baros said.
She is not guilty by reason of insanity of attempted first-degree murder and two counts of aggravated child abuse, Baros argued to jurors.
Prosecutor Reid Scott countered that Harden is guilty of the crimes because she was impaired by drugs and alcohol on the evening of the attack in December 2008. "Voluntary intoxication" is not a defense to the crimes, he said.
"It is never, ever, ever okay or excusable in any way to harm a child," Scott told jurors in opening statements.
The baby boy was "crying, crying, crying. She didn't want to deal with crying," Scott said. "She didn't want to deal with kids."
Harden could face up to life in prison if convicted as charged and sentenced to consecutive terms. The two counts of aggravated child abuse are for injuries suffered by Harden's baby boy and by her 8-year-old daughter, whose arm was sliced open.
Harden's neighbors in her Riviera Beach neighborhood, subpoenaed by prosecutors, testified Tuesday about the 8-year-old running to them, bleeding, and crying that her mother was trying to kill the baby.
One neighbor, Josephine Davidson, wept as she saw evidence photos of the children's injuries. A second, Chad Elam, testified he restrained Harden and heard her saying '"I did this. The devil did this."
Elam and another neighbor described Harden as a changed woman that evening, her eyes dilated and sunken in.
"Did she flip out?" Baros asked Elam.
"If you want to call it that," he replied.
"You think she snapped?" Baros asked.
"Yes," he replied.
An officer who responded to the scene, Richard Rott, testified Harden talked of people in the trees with remote controls, controlling everyone.
Prosecutors' final witness late Tuesday was a pediatrician from the county's child protection team, Dr. William Rosenstein, who examined Harden's children. He concluded their injuries, which included bruising, were acts of intentional abuse.
Harden's two defenders, including Assistant Public Defender Jennifer Marshall, have the burden of proving Harden was insane at the time of the crime. They are expected to present witnesses Wednesday.