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Pretoria - A Pretoria mother convicted of murdering her baby son suffered from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) brought on by years of abuse, the High Court in Pretoria was told on Tuesday.
In August, Judge Cynthia Pretorius found Marissa Rudman and her former boyfriend Nolan Schoeman guilty of murdering their two-month-old son Wade.
Wade died of head injuries four days after being admitted to the Steve Biko Hospital, in Pretoria, in a coma, and with two broken forearms and 22 broken ribs in April 2009. The injuries were more than a week old.
He also had lung contusions caused by a blow to the chest, and bruises and abrasions on his face, chest and the soles of his feet.
Pretorius said on Tuesday that the court would never know what had really happened, because both accused denied causing the baby's injuries.
Psychologist Suzette Heath said Rudman's unstable childhood and many rejections and disappointments had led to her learning to cope with emotions by cutting them off and not thinking of the hurt.
She said Rudman had been trapped in abusive relationships with men, and showed most of the symptoms associated with battered woman syndrome.
Heath said there was no doubt she suffered from PTSD as a result of the long period of severe abuse, during which she at times feared for her life.
“One can expect that she probably experienced feelings of detachment and hyper-arousal, struggled to concentrate and had to be constantly vigilant to prevent or prepare for further abuse.
Although Rudman was intelligent, had a job and functioned relatively well, she did not function adequately emotionally. She became needy and vulnerable, and had become trapped in a cycle of abuse.
No information could be found indicating that she deliberately hurt or neglected people, especially children.
Rudman had told Heath that she could not think about Wade, and that although she had cried in hospital when she was told he had died, she had been unable to look at him or hold him.
“Since then, she felt numb and could not bring herself to think or feel anything about him. She says she is still too afraid to think about him. she does not think she is strong enough to make it yet,” Heath told the court.
She said this type of reaction was a well known defence mechanism to manage severe emotional upset and pain.
Heath did not think Rudman's situation was an excuse for what had happened, but said it could serve as mitigation.
She said Rudman would be able to get specialised treatment if sentenced to correctional supervision, but conceded that this might not give enough weight to the gravity of the crime.
Pretorius said the message should go out that children were important.
“Everyone in South Africa seems to think a child is a disposable commodity,” she said.
Schoeman testified on Tuesday about his traumatic childhood and physical and emotional abuse at the hands of his father, who had abused alcohol and drugs.
He started using drugs in his early 20s because he felt “depressed” after breaking up with a girlfriend, was “curious” and “wanted to be like his father”.
He said he and Rudman used drugs together, but that he tried to stop at one point because he was a Christian and thought taking drugs was wrong in God's eyes.
He claimed he moved in with Rudman the night after they met in a bar, because she gave him the motherly love he had lacked as a child.
Schoeman reiterated that he could not remember assaulting Wade and that he found it hard to believe he would do such a thing. He has blamed his memory loss on his increased drug use.
The trial continues. - Sapa