NEW HAVEN, Conn. – The Connecticut Supreme Court on Monday overturned a mother's conviction on charges that she contributed to her 12-year-old son's suicide by creating an unsafe and unhealthy home.
Judith Scruggs of Meriden was convicted of risk of injury to a minor in 2003, a year and a half after her son, J. Daniel, hanged himself with a necktie in his closet.
Legal experts said it was thought to be the first time a parent had been convicted over a child's suicide.
Scruggs said her son killed himself because he was bullied at school, and she filed a federal lawsuit against Meriden school officials contending they should have stopped it. The case inspired a new state law requiring schools to report bullies to authorities, and many school districts revamped bullying policies.
In court three years ago, authorities testified that the Scruggs home was so dirty that the medical examiner had to climb over heaps of debris to get to the boy's body.
Scruggs' trial defense attorney countered that no psychologist or counselor ever testified that her home was a factor in the boy's death, but Scruggs was convicted and sentenced to probation.
In Monday's ruling, Justice William Sullivan wrote that the law used to convict Scruggs was unconstitutionally vague and ordered the trial court to acquit her.
"The state has pointed to no statutes, published or unpublished court opinions in this state or from other jurisdictions, newspaper reports, television programs or other public information that would support a conclusion that the defendant should have known that the conditions in her apartment posed an unlawful risk to the mental health of a child," Sullivan wrote.
Scruggs' current attorney, G. Douglas Nash, said he was "very pleased" by the ruling.
"That's what we were asking for," Nash said. "It was a tragic event from the beginning to the end. She suffered emotionally as a mother. On top of that, to have this criminal case, just made things very difficult."