BUFFALO, N.Y – A mother who repeatedly slammed her 7-month-old daughter's head to the sidewalk, killing her, was haunted by voices and delusions while in the grip of mental illness, her attorney said as the woman's murder trial began Monday.
Kirsten Vanderlinde (search) had been hospitalized numerous times over more than a decade as schizophrenia followed her through college, into the working world and motherhood, said attorney John Nuchereno (search), who is pursuing an insanity defense.
"A psychotic mom with a newborn needs a lot of help," Nuchereno said. "She didn't get it."
Vanderlinde, 36, is charged with second-degree murder in the death of Melissa Vanderlinde, who died of massive head trauma after being repeatedly swung headfirst to the concrete May 28, 2004.
Witnesses described a nightgown-clad Vanderlinde holding her naked daughter by the ankle and chanting "I want justice" during the attack in front of her home.
Melissa "was violently murdered by her own mother," prosecutor Kenneth Case (search) said in opening statements.
Vanderlinde faces 25 years to life in prison if convicted.
Judge Shirley Troutman is hearing the case after Vanderlinde earlier this month waived her right to a jury trial.
Vanderlinde, wearing a blue denim dress, her hair pulled into a ponytail, looked down at the defense table and crossed her arms as her attorney told of a bright college graduate fluent in French and German who, because of her illness, could not hold a job as an Arby's restaurant cashier because she couldn't make change for a dollar.
"The how is not in dispute," Nuchereno said of Melissa's death. "The why is very much in dispute."
Numerous medical professionals diagnosed Vanderlinde with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder during hospitalizations brought on by psychotic episodes in which Vanderlinde believed the devil was controlling her, inhabiting her body and intercepting her prayers, Nuchereno said.
The baby's father, Anthony Berst, also suffers from schizophrenia and was gone for long stretches at a time, including the days before the attack.
The night before killing her daughter, Vanderlinde, who had stopped taking anti-psychotic medication, saw faces in the trees outside her window and tried to give her baby to strangers "because she felt the evil coming," Nuchereno said.