Lawyer Of Mom Sentenced To 25 Years In The Murder Of Her Daughter Says Society Needs To Take A “Deep Look” At Maternal Mental Illness

It’s not the outcome you want to hear.

A mom with a severe maternal mental illness is sentenced to 25 years to life after pleading guilty to second degree murder in the death of her two-year-old daughter.

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Police were called to the home of 28-year-old Cynthia Arce back in April, 2018, where Arce was living with her mother and grandmother at the time of her daughter’s death.

Little Gabrielle Maria Boyd was found unconscious lying under a bed sheet surrounded by stuffed animals. Her mom, Arce, was in a bathtub full of blood after attempting to take her own life by slashing her wrists. The two were transported to hospital but not before Arce was shot by police officers after she stabbed two of them as they tried to help Gabrielle.

While Arce, of Mamaroneck, New York, survived her injuries, tragically, Gabrielle did not.

The day before Gabrielle died, Arce’s father obtained a court order and temporary custody of Gabrielle but when police arrived at Arce’s home, she refused to give over Gabrielle and shut the door. The police left.

The next day Arce’s father tried in vain to get the police to help him obtain Gabrielle but they declined saying it was a civil matter. Arce’s father had been trying to obtain custody of Gabrielle for the past two years due to Arce’s mental illness and a text he received from her that he says sounded suicidal.

Arce, in trying to kill herself, left two notes behind, one saying her daughter would be “joining the angels” and another that Arce would soon be with her. 

This past Thursday, Arce accepted a plea deal in court and was sentenced to 25 years in jail.

Although he withdrew his motion for a psychiatric defense to avoid the “huge emotional toil” of a trial, Arce’s defense attorney, Richard Portale said Arce was suffering from severe postpartum depression and taking prescription medication at the time which may have affected her state of mind.

“Our hope is that now the healing can begin,” Portale said. “As I’ve stated before, Cynthia Arce suffered from severe postpartum depression. I urge society to take a very close, deep look at this issue with passion and empathy and concern. And our thoughts today go out to all Gabriella’s family members as they mourn the loss this vibrant girl.”

“I urge society to take a very close, deep look at this issue with passion and empathy and concern.” – Defense Attorney Richard Portale

In earlier news reports, Portale said Arce was suffering from postpartum psychosis. Arce’s mother said she was suffering from postpartum bipolar disorder.

There is no universal screening for maternal mental illnesses in the U.S. or Canada, health care providers aren’t adequately trained, assessments are hard to come by, and there’s a lack of access to treatment.

Postpartum psychosis occurs in 1 to 2 out of every 1000 deliveries and most likely develops one to four weeks after birth. Postpartum bipolar disorder which can produce psychotic episodes, is frequently missed according to a 2018 study which also says 21 to 54 per cent of women diagnosed with postpartum depression meet the criteria for bipolar disorder.

There’s a lack of studies on the effects of antidepressants on women with postpartum bipolar disorder. Antidepressants have been known to induce mania and psychosis in people with bipolar disorder. If not properly treated, maternal mental illness can become chronic, lasting years with the potential to become a lifelong condition.

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