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Mom pleads innocent to murder: Lawyer plans insanity defense for Carver woman who said son was...

Mom pleads innocent to murder; Lawyer plans insanity defense for Carver woman who said son was ‘the devil'
By TAMARA RACE
The Patriot Ledger
{Photo: Helen Kirk - Pleaded innocent to killing her son}

Joseph Kirk met with funeral directors and picked out a burial plot, keeping his grief in check as he dealt with the details of death.

Down the road seven miles, his ex-wife, Helen Kirk, sobbed loudly as she was led away in shackles after pleading innocent in Wareham District Court to strangling the couple's 3-year-old son Justin.

Three days after Justin Kirk's death, a family and a community continued struggling Friday to come to terms with how a seemingly loving mother could suddenly see the devil in her little boy, and kill him because of it, as prosecutors allege.

For Joe Kirk, that means wondering if he missed signs that the mother of his children was capable of harm.

‘‘She always seemed a little off-kilter, but I didn't know of any major problems,'' he said Friday, hours after his ex-wife's arraignment.

Helen Kirk was ordered held without bail pending a psychological evaluation at Taunton State Hospital to determine her competency to stand trial.

Prosecutors say Kirk strangled the boy in his bedroom about 3:30 a.m. Tuesday, believing he was the devil.

Kirk's attorney, Jack Atwood, said he is planning an insanity defense.

‘‘Why else would an otherwise excellent mother do this to a loving child?'' Atwood said after the arraignment. ‘‘Her past mental health history is relatively brief, but that doesn't mean her problems aren't deep. Major depression is a very, very serious illness.''

Two years ago, Kirk spent two weeks at Pocasset Mental Health Center for treatment of depression and paranoid behavior. She took an antidepressant for a short period, but is not on any medication currently, Atwood said.

Kirk's statements referring to signs that Justin was the devil will be at the ‘‘heart of the defense,'' Atwood said.

While claiming his client was insane, Atwood earlier in the day allowed her to sign over equity in her house as collateral for legal fees.

Papers at the Registry of Deeds dated March 11 show Kirk granted Atwood a $125,000 mortgage.

The 289 Meadow St. ranch-style home is appraised for $250,000. Kirk already has a $135,000 mortgage from 2003 on the property, according to registry records.

Atwood said Kirk appeared competent to stand trial and make decisions regarding her defense but could still have been insane at the time of the murder.

‘‘She appeared competent to me,'' Atwood said. ‘‘She knew where she was, she understood what she was charged with, she understood the functions of a judge and jury, and she was able to provide meaningful help on her case.''

In court Friday, prosecutors detailed what happened the night of Justin's death.

Assistant District Attorney Frank Middleton said sounds of the boy choking were loud enough to awaken Kirk's sister, Charlene Cribben, who was sleeping in a nearby bedroom.

Cribben went to the boy's room, but seeing the light on and the door shut, she assumed Kirk was ministering to the boy and returned to bed, Middleton told Judge Rosemary Minehan.

At about 5 a.m., Kirk went to the room Cribben shared with Kirk's 14-year-old daughter, Heather, and woke the pair, repeatedly stating she was ‘‘a bad person'' and that police were coming.

She later stated several times she was following signs indicating Justin was the devil, Middleton told the court.

Cribben cried when Middleton read the facts of the case, covering her mouth and reaching for her brother, Jewel Knight, who sat next to her in the courtroom.

Atwood indicated domestic problems in Kirk's marriage and her fear of her husband possibly contributed to her depression. He said a computer confiscated by police supposedly contained a list of things Joseph Kirk had done to his client during their years together. The couple divorced in 2002.

Cribben told police Helen asked her to compile the list on the computer.

The night of the crime, Helen Kirk told her daughter she had destroyed a book the girl wanted to see. Cribben said Kirk may have been referring to a daily journal Kirk kept in a locked box when they lived together in Taunton.

Kirk was granted restraining orders against her husband in 1995 and 1997, claiming he was abusing both herself and Heather.

Joseph Kirk, an on-call firefighter in Carver, was charged with domestic assault and battery and violating the 1997 order. The charges were continued without a finding for one year and subsequently dismissed.

In 2002, Kirk again filed a long, rambling affidavit for a restraining order that contains hints of her mental instability. The order was denied.

Justin's death shocked both Knight and Cribben, who said Kirk loved her children and took good care of them.

Neither believed their sister was capable of such an act.

‘‘She didn't let him out of her sight,'' Knight said. ‘‘She was overprotective. She must have snapped or something. What happened, happened. She needs me now to keep her heart up. I'll stand by her through this.''

Knight said there were no indications, aside from her previous hospitalization, that his sister had any serious mental health problems.

Cribben and Heather Kirk both told police Helen Kirk was behaving strangely on Sunday and Monday, talking about being a bad mother and a bad person and becoming sad and silent for long periods.

Kirk worked at the Greenery Rehabilitation hospital in Middleboro as a certified nursing assistant since 1991, state records show.

Staff there said they had no problems with her, and the state had no records of any issues.

A funeral for Justin will be held at 10 a.m. Monday at the United Parish Church in Carver. Burial will be Union Cemetery, Carver.
* Source
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