Tuesday, July 13, 2004

Toronto, Ontario: Woman guilty of drowning autistic daughter, Scarlet Chen

Scarlet Chen, age 4

Date: Sat. Mar. 1 2008 7:21 PM ET

A Toronto mother has been found guilty of drowning her four-year-old autistic daughter in a bathtub inside their Scarborough home.

A Superior Court jury returned its verdict Saturday morning after two days of deliberation.

Xuan Peng, a 36-year-old Chinese immigrant, was convicted of second-degree murder in the death of her only daughter Scarlett Chen.

Scarlett was discovered unconscious by her father David Chen in their home on Rosebank Drive on July 12, 2004.

At the time, police questioned Peng, who said she had filled up the tub to clean some kitchen utensils, court heard.

Peng said her daughter had been taking a nap in the bedroom next door, and must have wandered in and drowned accidentally. The two were home alone.

However, seven months later, investigators charged Peng with killing her child.

Prosecutors said Peng drowned her daughter in a moment of frustration, saying she was upset after being told by a doctor just hours before Scarlett died that there would be no surgical solution for the girl's problems.

Shortly after her arrest, Peng removed her glasses, smashed them and used them to slash her arms, according to evidence at her bail hearing that the jury wasn't allowed to hear, the Toronto Star reported.

Scarlett was described as a healthy but developmentally delayed girl who was diagnosed as mildly autistic. Her parents sent the baby to live with her maternal grandmother in China for 2 1/2 years, the court heard.

When Scarlett returned to Toronto with her grandmother in March 2004, she never really bonded with her parents and Peng couldn't cope with her, Crown prosecutors argued.

Defence lawyers, however, insisted Peng was a loving and devoted mother. Her husband testified that she adored their child.

Peng began to suffer from depression after Scarlett was born, which is one of the reasons she could not care for the child, police said at a bail hearing, according to the Star. She was diagnosed as suffering from a bipolar affliction disorder.

Emotional trial

The trial was an emotional one for those involved. After the verdict, one of Peng's lawyers broke down in tears, too upset to speak to reporters.

"We think it's a reasonable verdict and at the end of the day this is about Scarlett, and unfortunately she's passed and there's nothing that can be done about it," said Crown prosecutor Kim Motyl.

Even veteran investigators were torn with emotion.

"Even though there has been mental illness problems with Mrs. Peng, I feel just as much sorry for her and her family because there is a loss for her and Mr. Chen and her mother," said Det. Sgt. Ray Zarb. "It's a sad day for all parties."

A conviction on second-degree murder carries an automatic life sentence. The judge must now decide when Peng will be eligible to apply for parole.

Prosecutors will ask that Peng serve 10 to 20 years before being eligible for parole.

Sentencing has been set for March 14.

With a report from CTV Toronto's Ken Regular