ATLANTA – An Atlanta vegan couple whose malnourished 6-week-old son starved to death after they fed him a too-limited diet of soy milk and apple juice will have to serve their life sentences for murder, Georgia's top court ruled on Monday.
The Georgia Supreme Court's unanimous decision rejected appeals by Jade Sanders and Lamont Thomas.
The two first-time parents in their 20s at the time lived in Atlanta's Buckhead neighborhood. They rushed their infant, Crown Shakur, to the hospital in April 2004 after he began to have trouble breathing. Doctors who couldn't resuscitate him determined he died because of extreme malnourishment or starvation.
Police searching the couple's apartment found a soy milk bottle, an apple juice bottle and a rancid-smelling baby bottle caked with debris.
At the 2007 trial, prosecutors said the soy milk cartons in their apartment stated that it wasn't to be used as a substitute for baby formula. They also contended that the couple intentionally neglected their child and refused to take him to the doctor even as his body wasted away. He was just 3.5 pounds when he died, about as much as a baby weighs at 7 months into a normal pregnancy.
A jury convicted them of malice murder, felony murder, involuntary manslaughter and cruelty to children.
"No matter how many times they want to say, 'We're vegans, we're vegetarians,' that's not the issue in this case," prosecutor Chuck Boring said during the trial. "The child died because he was not fed. Period."
Defense attorneys countered that the parents did the best they could while adhering to the lifestyle of vegans, who typically use no animal products. They said Sanders and Thomas did not realize the baby was in danger until they rushed his emaciated body to the hospital.
"I loved my son — and I did not starve him," Jade Sanders said at her May 2007 sentencing hearing.
In her appeal, Sanders' attorney argued the evidence wasn't strong enough to support the verdict. And Thomas' lawyer claimed his trial attorney was ineffective because he failed to call an expert to support his theory that his son's death was linked to cystic fibrosis and not starvation.
But the opinion, which was written by Presiding Justice George Carley, rejected both arguments. The evidence, the justices concluded, was sufficient to find both parents were "guilty of the crimes for which they were convicted."
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