Left, Right & Center
Jewish World Review / January 6, 1998 / 8 Tevet, 5758
"Understandable" Murder and Child Custody
Despite racial and legal theory, a biological parent is not always the best option
ON JUNE 19, 1992, LATRENA PIXLEY of Washington, D.C., put a blanket over the face of her 6-week-old daughter and smothered her to death. She placed the baby's body in the trash and waited for her boyfriend. The two went out for a barbecue. In the morning, over breakfast, Pixley told her boyfriend about the murder. Later in the day, Pixley told police that she was desperate because she was running out of money to feed her other two children and herself. There were two churches and a crisis pregnancy center within a stone's throw of her apartment, which offered free food and supplies to needy mothers.
So far, this tale is not extremely unusual. Each year in the United States, about 1,200 babies and toddlers are murdered by their parents -- usually by their mothers. The child welfare systems in the various states are poorly equipped to prevent such tragedies because they are in the grip of false ideas. The first false idea is that it is always preferable for a child to be raised by his biological parent than by adoptive parents. The second idea is that black children ought not to be raised by white parents. And the third is that a few parenting classes or drug rehabilitation visits can effect dramatic transformations in the characters of child abusers and killers.
To return to the story of Pixley: At her trial for the murder of her daughter, Pixley argued that she was suffering from severe post-partum depression. District of Columbia Superior Court Judge George W. Mitchell agreed, adding that "if some high-class society woman" had claimed the same illness, the courts would be receptive. He continued, "People tend to understand these psychological phenomenons (sic) in high-level people, but it becomes un-understandable in a poor person sometimes. I don't want to be victimized by that kind of thinking." And he wasn't. He sentenced Pixley to five to 15 years for second-degree murder and then immediately suspended the sentence, ordering her to be jailed on weekends only in a halfway house.
During the course of her punishment, Pixley obtained a clerical job. She used her access to fellow employees' files to steal their Social Security numbers and commit credit card fraud. Since this was a violation of her probation, she was sent to prison for real. By then, she had given birth to a baby boy named Cornelius. He was placed in foster care with Laura Blankman, an aspiring police officer.
But when Pixley had been in prison for only a little over a year, Judge Mitchell decided to give her yet another chance and released her to a "transitional housing program." Once out of jail, Pixley decided that she wanted her baby back. Blankman, who had grown attached to the boy and petitioned to adopt him, resolved to fight for custody. After a one-week trial in Montgomery County, Md., Judge Michael D. Mason ruled that Pixley should regain custody of Cornelius, who turns 2 this month, and that the transfer should take place within 60 days.
Judge Mason ignored evidence to the effect that Pixley is forbidden to have contact with one of her older sons, an 8-year-old in foster care, and has no contact with a 7-year-old who lives with his father's family.
Mason was at least honest in offering reasons for his outrageous judgment. The first was a faith in family preservation. Second was the fact that Pixley had kept in touch with Cornelius during her imprisonment and had sent money. The third reason was the judge's belief that black children belong in black families.
This woman, who has lost custody of all her children whom she has not murdered, who has defrauded her fellow employees and who has cared for this baby for a maximum of four months, is now to be given full, unsupervised custody of her 2-year-old? What can possibly have warped the minds of these judges so far that they would place an innocent child in such jeopardy? There was testimony at the custody hearing to the effect that Pixley has turned her life around. Perhaps she has. But the best predictor of a person's future behavior is past behavior. Cornelius has a mother who loves him. The great pity is that two judges and the entire child welfare bureaucracy of Washington, D.C., could not see beyond biology.
1/2/98: Majoring in Sex