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Killer mom's amnesia may be to protect herself: Psychologist

Pamela Roth, QMI Agency
Allyson McConnell is charged with two counts of second-degree murder in the deaths of her two sons Connor and Jayden. They were discovered by their father, Curtis, in the bathtub in their family home in Alberta. (Supplied Photo)

Allyson McConnell is charged with two counts of second-degree murder in the deaths of her two sons Connor and Jayden. They were discovered by their father, Curtis, in the bathtub in their family home in Alberta. (Supplied Photo)

EDMONTON -- The only thing Allyson McConnell could count on in her life were her two young children. So when she made the decision to take her own life, it made sense that she would take them with her, according to Dr. Alberto Choy, a forensic psychologist at Alberta Hospital.

"It made sense to us if the decision is made I don't want to exist anymore, that the children are entered into that," said Choy during his testimony at McConnell's second-degree murder trial Tuesday.

The 33-year-old has admitted to drowning her two sons, 10-month-old Jayden and two-year-old Connor, in the bathtub of her Millet, Alta., home in February 2010.

She has pleaded not guilty to the charges.

"In taking her children with her, it looks like more than anything else that this is what she valued."

Choy believes McConnell wanted to keep them with her when she made the decision she didn't want to continue with her own life, calling it an extension of her own suicide.

McConnell has testified that she never intended to hurt her boys and has virtually no recollection of what happened that last weekend of January 2010.

When Choy met McConnell at Alberta Hospital in April 2010, he described her as frail and thin, and she used a walker to get around. She was severely depressed and difficult to engage in conversation. Interviews with her were punctuated by silence.

Two years later, Choy has seen a change in McConnell, and said she shows a much greater range of emotion after trials with antidepressants.

But she still remains under a constant suicide watch -- her most recent attempt being the first week of March, when she tried to strangle herself in the shower at the hospital.

When asked about the events leading up to the deaths of the children, Choy said he believes McConnell's memory difficulties are not deliberate.

Choy told the court that four days before the boys bodies were discovered by their father, McConnell took several sleeping pills and mixed them with alcohol, creating a combination that could cause amnesia.

The next thing she remembers, he said, is waking up on the basement floor and becoming ill.

She got into her vehicle and drove to a Toys "R" Us in Edmonton, where she regularly took her kids. She parked her car and walked to a hotel, ordered lunch, but became too emotional to eat.

That's when she walked over to the overpass and jumped over the edge into traffic.

Choy said the next thing McConnell remembers is being in an ambulance and at an Edmonton hospital.

She sustained a concussion from the fall, which also could have contributed to her loss of memory, along with the psychiatric stress she was under, explained Choy.

During her first few days in the hospital, McConnell asked how her children were doing.She could not -- or is not willing to -- recall how she got to the point of drowning her children, added Choy.

"I don't think she is necessarily deliberately trying to hide information from us," said Choy, who did not see an issue with McConnell's fitness to stand trial, noting she suffers from a depression disorder and had a disturbed mind at the time of the incident.

"Her amnesia at this time may be related to a real psychological need to protect herself from the awful events."

McConnell had thoughts of suicide off and on throughout her life, beginning at the age of 15 when she became pregnant by her father but miscarried the baby.

In order to cope with the "extreme" trauma she has experienced in her life, Choy said McConnell suppressed her emotions and distracted herself with other activities -- a move Choy called a "survival mechanism."

Thoughts of suicide became intense again when her ex-husband served her with divorce papers in December 2010, sparking a bitter feud.

In the weeks leading up to the killings, there were also several searches about drownings, strangulation, overdoses and hangings recovered on the hard drive of McConnell's computer.

Other signs of suicide were also found in her home, such as a rope hung from the ceiling in the basement, and plugged in hair dryer and crimper lying in a bathtub partially filled with water. Empty liquor and pill bottles were found nearby.

Crown prosecutor Gordon Hatch noted several inconsistencies with McConnell's self report.

He asked Choy if what she consumed or her mental state that night would ever cause her to not be able to inform the intent to kill, to which Choy replied "no."

McConnell's mother and older sister testified they flew in from her native Australia and spent time with her in the hospital after she jumped off the bridge.

Roslyn Meager said McConnell at first didn't seem to be aware the boys were dead, so she had to break the grim news.

"I said, "Allyson, the boys are gone,'" said Meager.

"She didn't seem to have any understanding about why she would need one (a criminal lawyer)."

When asked what McConnell's response was to learning her children had been killed, Meager said "A distress I've never seen in my life and probably never will again."