A sad story from Boulancourt, France, south of Paris, where a father has been given just a tap on the wrist for smothering his disabled daughter with a pillow:
Americo Carneiro, weary of caring for his special-needs daughter, tiptoed into six-year-old Johana’s room on January 3, 2011. Finding his daughter asleep in her bed, Carneiro pinched his nose and with his other hand covered the girl’s mouth, suffocating her to death.
On March 21, 2014, a jury in the Assize Court of Melun imposed a “symbolic sentence” of five years suspended sentence, three years of probation and a duty of care. That means that effective immediately, Carneiro is free to go about his business.
Little Johana was born prematurely and had suffered a seizure at birth, leaving her quadriplegic and without muscle tone. She could not stand or sit on her own. She suffered severe mental retardation, and had learned to say “daddy” and “mommy” but was otherwise unable to speak. Johana’s mother suffers from serious bipolar disorder, and the treatment for that condition rendered her apathetic and dependent on her husband.
So Carneiro cared for them both. He bathed and fed Johana and changed her diapers. He refused help from a friend who offered to babysit so that Carneiro and his wife could enjoy an evening away from their responsibilities. He was friendly and dedicated but he spoke little, according to neighbors and employees at the golf center where he worked.
During his trial for murder, Carneiro cited exhaustion and worry as the catalysts for his taking of his own daughter’s life. According to one report, he had intended to also kill his wife, and then himself; and in preparation, he had transferred €10,000 to his mother-in-law’s account to pay for the family funeral. Instead of continuing his plan, though, impaired by alcohol and sleeping pills, he collapsed into a sound sleep. When he woke in the middle of the night, he confessed to his wife that he had killed their daughter.
The French court listened to the sad story, and to Carneiro’s testimony about the stress of having a sick child. He sobbed. He mumbled that he was sorry, that he missed her. And pressed to answer the charges against him, Carneiro said “To speak is to think, and to think is to suffer.”
In testimony, relatives of Americo Carneiro explained the difficulties life has brought for the quiet, mild-mannered bricklayer who had emigrated to France from Portugal. His older brother had died in an accident at the age of 10. Just a few weeks later, his father suffered a major stroke which paralyzed him on the left side, and Americo became his father’s caretaker. Americo was aware of his wife Gracienda’s illness at the time of their courtship, but he married her nonetheless. He resisted having children, fearing that the “curse” which had marked his life would be carried forward into the next generation. Indeed, Johana was born severely disabled, especially on the left side. For Carneiro, the only way to escape the situation was for his entire family to “disappear.”
General Counsel Morgane Baudin reminded the jurors to recall the difficulty of their task: They needed to remember the circumstances of the act, the shy, withdrawn personality of the accused, and the difficulties of the situation. At the same time, Baudin urged them not to see in the murder an act of love, and not to reduce Johana to her disability, but to remember that she was a real person, deserving of life and care. “Johana’s disability,” she reminded the jurors, “did not warrant such action. This is not because we are disabled, we do not have the right to live.”
On March 18, Carneiro was found guilty. On March 21, he was sentenced to five years in prison for the intentional homicide; but his sentence was immediately suspended. No prison time will be required.