Condensed from New York Times article by Adam Liptak, 11/27/02


  Tabitha Pollock with her lawyer.    


Tabitha Pollock was sleeping when her boyfriend bludgeoned and choked her 3-year old daughter to death. When she learned of her boyfriend's confession in the murder, at first she did not believe it, but as the truth sank in she started to question his earlier explanations for her children's many bruises and scrapes. For not making this connection in her head sooner the prosecution deemed Ms. Pollock willfully, homicidally negligent, and a jury convicted her of first degree murder. Other prosecution arguments concerned her diligence as a mother. Her children were often dirty, some witnesses said. She let them walk alone in the dark. There was testimony about insufficient hugging.

There was no testimony at trial claiming the boyfriend had a history of abusive behavior. And in his confession the boyfriend said Ms. Pollock knew nothing of the abuse.

After serving 7 years of her 36 year sentence, Ms. Pollock's conviction was overturned by the Illinois Supreme Court thanks to the efforts of a Northwestern University law school clinic, and she will probably be released. But still state lawyers are pressing for a retrial under the proper legal standard: proof that she knew of life threatening abuse. Ms. Pollock said the government has punished her enough. "The state has taken everything from me. I don't have a house, I don't have a car, I don't have my children." She has lost custody of her remaining three children due to the conviction. The youngest, a boy two years old at the time of the murder, was adopted by another family and she has had no contact with him since. Her other two children are with grandparents, and have visited their mother during school breaks.

Legal experts said mothers have been convicted for abuse committed by others in hundreds of similar U.S. cases. Jane Raley, a law professor at Northwestern and Ms. Pollock's current lawyer, said that the success of her client's appeal may cause the courts Henry County, Northwest Illinois, to reconsider similar convictions in that jurisdiction.

Another law professor, Mary Becker of DePaul University, commented, "We hold mothers responsible beyond all logic...whenever something goes wrong, it's the mother's fault."