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LIVE FROM THE HEADLINES

Woman Convicted for Drowning Son

Aired September 2, 2003 - 19:22   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: A mother who drowned her own son and tried to drown her other son will have a sentencing hearing tomorrow. It is the final stage of a painful case that, as CNN's Gary Tuchman reports, has already heard heart-wrenching testimony.
(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

GARY TUCHMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Luke was 4 years old and Peter five when their mother tried to kill them both.

Christine Wilhelm's (ph) defense? That she was a paranoid schizophrenic who did not know right from wrong. She testified on videotape about trying to drown her children in this bathtub.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Then the next thing I know I'm getting the dog leashes, the kids are in the bathtub, and I put the dog leash around Peter's feet and dunked him under water. He said, "Mommy stop," and he stopped, and I stopped. And I took the dog leash off of him and helped him out of the tub and gave him a towel. And he said, "Don't do..." you know, "Don't do that!"

TUCHMAN: Peter survived. But his little brother did not. He drowned at the hands of his mother minutes later.

TRISH DEANGELIS, PROSECUTOR: When she killed that beautiful little boy, she knew exactly what she was doing. And she knew it was wrong. So don't let them tell you different.

TUCHMAN: In an unusual and emotional part of the trial, the surviving son testified about what happened that day in April, 2002.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mom tried to drown me cause she had a sickness in her mind and she didn't take her whole medication so she had that problem and she tried to drown me. But instead she drowned my brother two times.

TUCHMAN: Christine Wilhelm's trial in Troy, New York, is remnant of the Andrea Yates case in Houston, in which the Texas mother also used mental illness as a defense but was convicted. And Wilhelm met the same fate after 11 hours of jury deliberations.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: As to murder in the second degree, how did you find?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Guilty.

TUCHMAN: The convicted murder's husband, Ken, testified for the prosecution. He now has custody of their son Peter.

Gary Tuchman, CNN, Troy, New York.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: Unbelievable and disturbing. The father is also expected to read a victim impact statement at tomorrow's hearing.

Here now to guide us through what to expect is Court TV anchor Lisa Bloom.

Lisa, thanks for being with us.

How impactful are these victim statements?

LISA BLOOM, COURT TV ANCHOR: Well, I think they're important. You know, the victim rights movement has gone a long way in getting victims a voice in court.

It used to be it was all about the defendant during a trial and the sentencing. Here the victim's family member has a chance to talk. Unlike the Andrea Yates' case, where his Russell Yates stood by his wife to the end, even to the present day, this husband is not standing by his wife. He wants justice for those children. He wants a long sentence. And I think the jury is likely to listen to that plea.

COOPER: Well, certainly, when you look at other cases, at Andrea Yates, as you mentioned, and Susan Smith, I mean, they all got life sentences. Do you think that's likely here?

BLOOM: I think it is, especially when the victim is a child, as here. A child named Luke, just like in the Andrea Yates case, a boy named Luke also drowned.

Juries are very, very hard on people who kill children, even when it's the mother of that child. I think we're likely to see a life sentence or at least 40 years.

COOPER: Even when they are arguing schizophrenia as a defense? I mean...

BLOOM: Well, that's been rejected at the guilt phase. So that's already been put aside by the jury. The woman was paranoid schizophrenic, but the jury said, nevertheless, she knew right from wrong. She knew what she was doing.

So that's over now. The sentencing phase is only about how much time would be appropriate for her sentence. Such a difficult case.

COOPER: All right. I want to move on, also, to Kobe Bryant. Some updates to tell the folks about.

In a Denver court today we learned that Kobe Bryant's lawyers have subpoenaed records from a hospital where his accuser was treated this year. The 19-year-old was admitted by police for what has been described only as a mental health issue, and that is certainly prompting some speculation about why Bryant's team wants these records.

Lisa, what do you think?

BLOOM: I think they're declaring war on the victim. This is all about credibility. He says it was consensual sex. She says it was nonconsensual. So it's all about credibility. They're going to go after everything they can on this victim.

COOPER: This stuff -- Allegedly they would be looking for is not just, you know, any sexual assault or allegation of sexual assault related to that. It is mental health; it is background.

BLOOM: You're right. And in fact, the only thing the Colorado law protects for a rape victim is her prior sexual history. That they can't get into, but her mental health history, her personal background, financial background, things her friends might say about her, that's all fair game.

COOPER: And I think you pointed out to me earlier, the prosecution cannot do the same to Kobe Bryant.

BLOOM: Well, that's right. In other words, Kobe Bryant's rights are protected. He's the defendant. He doesn't come into court voluntarily.

COOPER: So any medical history he's had...

BLOOM: That's right. Protected by the right of privacy.

COOPER: All right. Privacy. Lisa Bloom, thanks very much.

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