Posted by: Lisa Pampuch | July 24, 2002

A mom’s view of the Gilbert case

I wouldn’t want to have been a member of the jury charged with deciding the fate of Brian Gilbert.

Last week, 12 Santa Clara County residents found Gilbert, a San Martin resident, guilty of involuntary manslaughter in the death of his infant son. Gilbert admitted that he drove Kyle, age 5 months, to his brother-in-law’s home in south San Jose last summer. He forgot Kyle was in the back seat and left him in the car for three hours on a hot July day.

Gilbert and his family have contended that they have suffered enough with the loss of Kyle and that there was no criminal wrongdoing.

Prosecutors disagreed – and prevailed in court.

Frankly, I’m torn.

As a mother of two children, I never forgot them for a moment in a car. As a parent, and maybe especially as a mother, I frankly can’t conceive of it.

Gilbert’s attorney wanted to tell jurors about Gilbert’s high school diagnosis of Attention Deficit Disorder, but the judge did not allow it. Given the weak and outrageous defenses that are frequently allowed in courts of law, I don’t understand that decision.

In media coverage and in Gilbert’s trial, much was made of the fact that Gilbert was engrossed in Japanese cartoons while his son was sweltering and dying in that hot car. Would Kyle’s death have been more acceptable or less tragic if his father had forgotten him while he was in the house doing charity work?

Much was also made of the fact that Gilbert is unemployed. Would it have been better somehow if he had forgotten the baby in the car while he was at work?

The mother in me is outraged and heartbroken about the senseless, painful death of a child that could have been so easily avoided.

But I’m also close to a child with ADD, and I know how drastically it affects his life. He forgets things that are very important to him, forgets what he is doing mid-process. Based on my observations of that child, if Gilbert does have ADD, then I absolutely believe that Gilbert did not intentionally leave his son in the car.

What’s the right answer? This case surely calls for the wisdom of Solomon. Certainly as a society, we have to insist that citizens take responsibility for their actions, but perhaps the family is right – the absence of Kyle is punishment enough.

I’m no lawyer (and neither, presumably, were Gilbert’s jurors) but I’ve read the definition of involuntary manslaughter. I guess Gilbert’s actions on that fateful day last July could meet it, but I can also see that they don’t. If I’d been on that jury, I think I probably would’ve hung it.

Gilbert will be sentenced in October, and is considering an appeal of his conviction as well. He faces up to four years in prison.

I hope the judge does not give Gilbert the maximum sentence. I also hope Gilbert can find a way to treat his ADD so no one else suffers the consequences of his disorder. The death of one infant is much too much.

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