MERIDEN, Conn. – A woman was convicted Monday of contributing to the suicide of her 12-year-old son, who hanged himself in his closet with a necktie after being picked on for months at school over his bad breath and body odor.
Judith Scruggs, 52, was found guilty of one count of risk of injury to a minor for creating a filthy home that prosecutors said prevented J. Daniel Scruggs (search) from improving his hygiene. She faces up to 10 years in prison when she is sentenced next month.
The six-member jury cleared Scruggs of a second charge that accused her of failing to provide her son with proper medical and psychological care. She also was acquitted on a cruelty charge.
Legal experts said the case may mark the first time a parent has been convicted of contributing to a child's suicide.
Prosecutors said they took no joy in bringing charges against a grieving mother, but felt a jury should decide whether Scruggs' actions contributed to the boy's death.
"There are those who may disagree, but it is our position that parents are responsible for the care and welfare of their children and must ensure their basic medical, emotional and psychological needs are satisfied," prosecutor James Dinnan said.
Scruggs refused to comment as she left the courthouse. Defense attorney Reese Norris called the verdict an injustice.
"I hope the public will have an outcry that someone could be could be convicted of any charge ... in association with the suicide of her child," he said.
Judith Scruggs acknowledged Daniel would sometimes have body odor or bad breath and would soil himself to get out of going to school. She said she frequently told Daniel to take showers, but said she could not force him to do so.
Scruggs told police Daniel was afraid of bullies who had kicked and punched him, and he kept knives in his closet out of fear before killing himself in January 2002.
Prosecutors presented evidence that showed there was barely room to move around her home because of clothes, boxes, papers and other debris that littered the floor. The kitchen was full of dirty dishes and spills and stains. The bathroom floor and the bathtub were covered with clothes, and the toilet, sink and tub were soiled.
Prosecution witnesses also described a foul odor. To get an idea what it was like, one officer suggested sticking your head in a hamper full of dirty clothes and whiffing garbage at the same time.
"I definitely didn't think she did enough. You just don't let things go," juror Vinny Giardina told The Associated Press after the verdict.
Norris said prosecutors never provided evidence linking the condition of the home to the suicide. He portrayed Judith Scruggs as a loving single mother who worked two jobs — one full-time as a teacher's aide in Daniel's school and the other part-time at a Wal-Mart.
Norris had called the boy's death a case "Bullycide" (search). The suicide spawned a Connecticut law mandating schools to report bullies to authorities.