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When a mother allegedly kills her children

A long, arduous journey through the criminal justice system will ultimately decide what happens to Lindsay Clancy.

Visitors stopped by a memorial Thursday outside 47 Summer St. in Duxbury.Barry Chin/Globe Staff

People in Duxbury and beyond are still trying to fathom how Lindsay Clancy, a 32-year-old labor and delivery nurse, could kill two of her children and try to kill a third before jumping out the window of their home in an apparent attempt to kill herself.

The idea that a woman whose hands were instruments of tender care for newborns could use those same hands to strangle her own children is unfathomable.

Some specialists have suggested, from just a cursory examination of the information released to the public, that Clancy may have been in the throes of postpartum psychosis when she killed her 5-year-old daughter, Cora, and her 3-year-old son, Dawson. Her 7-month-old son survived what police called an attempt to strangle him and is being treated at Boston Children’s Hospital.


In July, on her Facebook page, Clancy wrote about experiencing postpartum anxiety.

Plymouth District Attorney Timothy J. Cruz offered sympathetic words, saying he could not “begin to fathom the pain, the depths of pain” the Clancy family is enduring.

But that didn’t stop Cruz from charging Clancy with two counts of murder.

If a more recent Plymouth County case involving a mother who killed her children is any guide, the process to determine whether Clancy was mentally ill when she killed her children, and whether it amounts to a mitigating factor, will be settled during a court process that is likely to take several years.

If Cruz hadn’t charged Clancy with murder, he would have been open to claims he was offering preferential treatment to a middle-class, professional white woman from an upscale town just a month after his office secured a murder conviction against a poor, Black woman from Brockton who killed her two sons in 2018. That conviction followed an arduous, four-year legal process.


Latarsha Sanders, 48, was sentenced to life in prison after a Plymouth County jury rejected her defense that she was insane when she stabbed her sons, 8-year-old Edson “Marlon” Brito and 5-year-old La’Son Brito.

Sanders’ family insisted she had been mentally ill for years but refused treatment. Edison Brito, the boys’ father, supported the prosecution and testified against Sanders.

Prosecutors argued that Sanders showed criminal intent, cleaning up the bloody scene, while blaming others for her sons’ deaths before admitting she stabbed her sons as part of a ritual.

Jurors deliberated for just four hours, after a nine-day trial.

After the trial, Sanders’ lawyer, Elliot R. Levine, ruefully told the Globe, “Juries just don’t buy the insanity defense.”

Levine called Cruz’s decision to prosecute her for first-degree murder “draconian.” Cruz followed what he considers his professional obligation as a prosecutor.

During Sanders’ sentencing hearing, Levine said her family does not believe she is a criminal who presents a danger to the public. But he acknowledged Superior Court Judge William F. Sullivan had no discretion and had to impose a life sentence.

“The family has been totally and completely supportive of Miss Sanders because they have recognized from day one that she was insane at the time that she killed her two children,” Levine told Sullivan. “That has been their position all along, and they were shocked by the degree of insanity that she had.”

From the bench, Sullivan acknowledged the tragic circumstances, quoting the ancient Greek playwright Aeschylus.


“After the verdict,” Sullivan said, “I kept thinking about the sentencing here today. And also kept thinking about those two little boys. And it brought to mind lines from a poem that was written many years ago that said, ‘pain which cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart.’ "

The pain associated with what happened inside that home on Summer Street in Duxbury will fall drop by drop upon many hearts, for years — forever, really — no matter how the case against Lindsay Clancy plays out.

After Sanders’ sentencing, Cruz observed, “There are no winners in the courtroom today.”

Whatever happens in the process to assess Lindsay Clancy’s culpability in the deaths of her children, there will be no winners. Just pain.

Kevin Cullen is a Globe reporter and columnist who roams New England. He can be reached at kevin.cullen@globe.com.