Mum tried to smother her newborn, walks free from court
A QUEENSLAND mother of four who attacked her defenceless four-month-old baby by smothering her has walked free from court.
Ashleigh Meagan Watterson, now 30, was stony-faced yesterday as a jury of 11 men and one woman found her guilty of the serious assault of her daughter Sarah at her Rothwell home, north of Brisbane, on October 28, 2010.
Justice Martin Burns sentenced her to a wholly suspended two-year sentence, noting she had served 19 days behind bars before trial.
Despite sobbing during her evidence, Watterson was emotionless as Justice Burns said she had attacked "a defenceless victim in your sole care" without any real reason.
Watterson's barrister suggested she was "suffering from stress or grief" from the loss a year earlier of Sarah's older sister Lara, who died aged nine weeks in 2009.
"I don't accept that any such stress or grief explains an attack on a four-month-old baby in your care," Justice Burns said.
Watterson had pleaded not guilty to assaulting her baby but the jury did not believe her denials.
She was yesterday acquitted by the jury of the more serious charges of twice trying to kill Sarah, first on November 2, 2010, at home, and secondly in a toilet cubicle off the parents' room of the paediatric ward of the Royal Children's Hospital on November 24, 2010.
During the 13-day trial, the jury heard that, on the day Watterson smothered Sarah, she called triple-0. Paramedics found the baby with a small amount of dried blood around the nose, which doctors said was a sign of possible smothering.
Paramedics also noted that Sarah showed evidence of having been in respiratory arrest and she showed mild hypoxia from a lack of oxygen.
Watterson claimed that she left the child for less than a minute and returned to find her blue and not breathing, a claim doctors said was unlikely to occur in such a short time.
The jury was not told that Watterson allegedly repeatedly cheated on her devoted husband, including by drunkenly kissing her best friend's husband, and that her legal aid lawyers applied to have most of the case held in secret.
In March, Watterson's lawyers failed in their bid to suppress the name of Watterson, her baby, and all other family members until 28 days after the verdict.
The Courier-Mail fought the application and won.
Details of Watterson's kiss with the husband of Sarah Ward were revealed in court four months ago, during the 30-year-old's first trial.
The trial was aborted after the jury mistakenly learned details of Ward confronting Watterson on October 3, 2013, while Ward was wearing a wire.
Watterson's lawyers told the court that allegations of Watterson "cheating" would "damage if not destroy" their portrayal of Watterson to the jury as a "dedicated wife and mother".
On the recording, Ward told Watterson that her husband Mark "told me that you had recently cheated on him, again".
Watterson told Ward she "was trying to get" Mark "away from me ... and I'm like, if I hurt him he will go".
The jury heard Ward talk about Watterson kissing her husband Sean during a drunken night out, which "led to a degree of tension".
In arguing for the trial to be aborted, Watterson's lawyer told the court that "the suggestion of marital infidelity is very much evidence ... of bad character" and the case was centred on the jury assessing Watterson's character.
During this trial, Watterson's psychologist Josephine Sundin told the court that Watterson had admitted to her that she was promiscuous, "binge drinking" and sought to alienate her husband in mid-2013 after she was charged with trying to seriously hurt Sarah.
She separated from her husband in January 2014.
"It is part of the defence case that the defendant was a caring and loving wife and mother, it is important to the defence case that this view, that is advanced by them, not be disturbed by inadmissable evidence," Justice Glenn Martin said on March 16 this year, during the first trial.
Perhaps the most telling evidence came from Watterson talking to her stepmother-in-law in August 2013, when she said giving birth to Sarah was "the stupidest thing in the world" at that time.
"I should have let myself fall apart when I lost Lara," she said in the covertly recorded call.
She told her stepmother-in-law Janet Dilena she "felt I had to keep it together" after losing Lara.