The Kehoe Case: Iowa Mother Guilty of Murdering Her 2 Year Old

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  In October 2008, Michelle Kehoe drove herself and her two boys, Seth (age 2) and Sean (age 7) to Hook-n-Liner Pond near Littleton, IA. She then tied both of her boys up, duct taped their eyes, nose, and mouths, and slashed their throats leaving little Seth dead and seriously injuring Sean. She then proceeded to the edge of the pond and attempted suicide by slashing her own throat. When she did not succeed with her suicide attempt, Kehoe went to a nearby house and claimed that a man kidnapped them and killed her children. Unbeknown to Kehoe, her son Sean had survived the attack and was able to tell authorities in the hospital later that day what truly happened.
 In November 2009, Kehoe stood trial for the murder of her son Seth and plead insanity. She was later found guilty of 1st Degree Murder, Attempted Murder, and Child Endangerment. In December 2009, she was sentence to life without the possibility of parole for the murder, 25 years for attempted murder, and 10 years for the child endangerment charged.
 Click here for the article about the trial. This also has short video clips of the trial including testimony from both psychologists, the recorded statement from Kehoe's surviving son, and the Kwik Star surveillance video of the family shortly before the horrific crime.
 Click here for the article about the sentencing hearing and how Kehoe's husband asked for leniency but the judge denied it. (Please note that the dates written in the article are wrong. Kehoe committed the crime in 2008 and the trial was held in 2009)

 For me, this case hit extremely close to home, in more ways than one. First off, there is the physical aspects of the crime. Kehoe stopped with her boys at the Kwik Star in Jesup, Iowa (which is where I live) and the store clerk who testified is a person that I know.
 After leaving Kwik Star, Kehoe drove down the road and stopped to let her boys play at the playground in front of St. Athanasius School. This playground is located directly behind my house (all that separates my yard from the playground is a single row of trees) and my oldest son plays there often. At this point in the time line, Kehoe purposely left her cell phone so that nobody could call for help.
 From the park, Kehoe drove a few miles further to Hook-n-Liner Pond. This happens to be my husband's and my fishing spot (since this happened though, we have decided to find a new spot). It is located in an extremely secluded location so a person would have to be familiar with the area to find it. Kehoe was originally from this area. In fact, the house down the road from it used to be owned by one of her relatives.
 After she committed this heinous act, the first officer on the scene was my neighbor (at that time) from across the street. He later told me that it was a very disturbing scene and he had an emotionally hard time dealing with it afterward.
 This case also hit close to home for me emotionally because I am a mother of two boys as well (my oldest is 6 and my youngest is 18 months) and their ages were relatively close to the ages of Kehoe's boys. As a mother, it is hard to fathom how a person could harm their own child. Even on the most stressful of days (and believe me, there are a lot of those when you have two young ones), I still cannot even dream of hurting them. Although I have always been interested in psychology and criminology, it is this lack of comprehension that propels me to learn more in search of answers or better yet, theories as why this sort of thing happens.
 I followed this case very closely  because I suspected that Kehoe would attempt an insanity plea. My initial thoughts, before I knew all the facts, was that her attorney would claim it was Munchhausen Via Proxy (based on an incident prior where she drove her van with her kids inside into a river and then in this case, the fact that she ran for help after the fact and concocted the story about being kidnapped).
 When I watched the trial on CNN's In Session, I was very surprised to hear about how severe Kehoe's depression was. The psychologist for the defense testified that Kehoe had actually undergone Electric Shock Therapy treatment up to 44 times in the last 12 years. Regardless of the severity of her depression, Kehoe was not insane (by the legal definition). She knew right from wrong and there was a lot of strong evidence to support malice aforethought (which is the determining factor for Murder in the 1st Degree).
 Another thing that stood out to me during the trial was Kehoe's defense attorney. When I saw her, she looked, at times, somewhat disheveled in appearance compared to the crisp, clean-cut prosecutor. Her closing arguments were also horribly delivered. She occassionally stumbled across words, at times seemed to lack confidence in what she was saying, and a few times she paused for long periods of time as if she had lost her place in her speech. Even though the evidence against Kehoe was overly abundant, it is my opinion her attorney really didn't help her case either.
 You can see the closing arguments, other court segments, and a photo timeline of the Kehoe case here as well.

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I agree. She was not legally considered insane. She knew right from wrong, and that was dead wrong. She deserved what she got for prison time (in my opinion). I can definitely understand how this issue would hit home to you especially living so close to where this all took place and how you yourself have two sons. Apparently this woman needs some serious professional help.

I remember hearing about this on the news. I was with my parents at the time and I remember talking about how she would probably try to pled insanity. How someone can do that to their children is beyond me I don’t think most people would ever think that far even on the worst of days. However the fact that she did do such a heinous thing I do tend to believe that there was a little more than just being depressed that caused her to go off the deep end. I’m going to go out on a limb as say that she probably wasn’t taking her medication for depression on a daily basis. Also to have 44 electric shock therapies in 12 years is a lot and I think can also cause neurological damage to a persons’ brain. So I believe that she probably had a psychotic break that led to her attempts to kill her boys and herself. This doesn’t make up for what she did but it does make some sense as to why this may have happened. Another thing that stuck out to me in this article was the fact that she had 44 shock therapies. I know a little bit about the treatment of depression and I know that if your medication isn’t working your psychiatrist finds a new medication to try or ups the dosage. I felt like this was a sign that her husband should have been paying attention to. Personally if my spouse was major depressive I would be doing my best to make sure they are getting the help they need and staying with their medication. And if they weren’t I wouldn’t be leaving them alone with my children just as a safety precaution. So I do believe there were signs that were missed prior to the incident that I think may have prevented this if they had been caught. For what she did she does deserve to be behind bars without parole but I guess my question would be is she better off behind bars or is she better off at a treatment facility and then put behind bars? I guess I would think a treatment facility and then jail because I think that it would have a greater impact because it would be more clear to her the extent of how horrible this act was.

After reading this blog I was overly amazed at the number of ECT treatments Kehoe received. I remember learning about ECT treatments in my drugs and individual behavior's class and people who suffer from severe depression usually only partake in a couple or more ECT treatments because only a few are needed to be successful at managing a person's depression. Another thing that drew me to this case was because it was tried in a nearby town, and also my cousin who works for the Waverly Democrat Paper was in charge of streaming the trial live on the internet. My cousin kept me updated on the trial and I would believe that most people would agree with me that the case was a very emotional one. I can only imagine what those poor children experienced especially the boy who lived to tell about it. There is a large chance that during his lifetime this boy will have to consistently seek counseling and he has a hard life ahead of him. In my opinion I would have not agreed with her insanity defense because she went many places before taking her boys to the pond where she would have mentally understood that it was a deserted area which would be a good place to commit the murder. Psychologically, it is hard to put yourself in the mother's shoes and understand the severity of her depression. Overall though it was a terrible tragedy and can be overwhelming to hear that a mother could do such things to her children.

Michelle Kehoe had severe depression. After she killed her son and was unable to kill herself, she wanted even more to die. She spent months in the psychiatric ward in Iowa City being forced to live with herself and what she had done. Though the crime was planned I still believe that insanity, or just a mindset that most of us can't understand, was involved. One of the psychologists in the video stated that Kehoe was trying to be the best mother that she could. I believe this was written or said about the case at some point but I may be making it up- but she could have been trying to 'save' her sons from living with the depression and emptiness of her own life. This does not at all excuse her actions, but it might have been her mindset and like i said earlier, does not necessarily make sense to the healthy mind.
This case happened in October of 2008. The Kehoe's live in Iowa City, as I do, and there was another case of an Iowa City parent killing his children just in March of 2008. In this case the father of the Sueppel family killed his wife and four children with a baseball bat before killing himself in a purposeful car crash into a cement post. The psychology I see in the connection of these cases is the children, not just the children involved, but their friends and the children across the city. These kids are hearing about these cases in the newspaper, from adults, on the news, etc. Your parent should be one person that you can always feel safe with, but that safety has been shaken from some children. I know for a fact that after the Sueppel murders many of the schools stopped putting baseball bats out at recess. And after cases like this, counselors and school psychologists are brought into schools to help any children who want or need it. My respect goes out to all of those counselors who live with and deal with that emotional weight.

One might originally think this mother acted out of insanity. I mean, most mothers don't murder their children. But after slitting the throats of her children, and trying to slit her own, she realized she wasn't going to die. When this hit her, she walked a half mile to a house where she told a story of complete lies claiming that a stranger had kidnapped her children and cut her. This clearly shows that she was acting with reasons. Thinking up this story is something she did to try and cover up what she knew she did. Also, Kehoe testified that she planned this a month ago by lying to her husband that she was taking her boys to visit her mother. This again would suggest it was pre-meditated.

During a class presentation on Tuesday, there was talk about how gruesome a crime is is very likely to influence an insanity plea. The fact this mother duct taped her children's mouths, eyes and noses and tied them up. She then slit their throats. This is a very gruesome crime, one that a jury would struggle to find compassion with. In class we have talked about implanting impressions immediately. Like the example of saying, “There was a car. It was red. Never mind, it wasn't red”. However you now have a harder time forgetting that car was red, and have a mental picture relating to a red car or a possibly a car that is typically red. When a jury first hears about a gruesome crime I believe it would be very hard to shake those thoughts completely. I think these types of crimes, and how gruesome they are, have a huge impact on juries.

The psychological effects of this case are overwhelming. The child that survived witnessed his little brother's throat being slit by his mother, not only that but he then had to take part in the case as being an eye witness. The psychological care that this child will need to receive will be a large amount. When children are this young their parents are basically their rock. They are who they look up to, model, and strive to make happy. When a child's mother does something like this I cannot imagine how devastating it would be.

The jury for this trial only deliberated an hour and 40 minutes before coming out with a verdict. I would have gone with the same verdict. This was a terrible, gruesome, and pre-meditated crime.

A side note to this story is that Kehoe attempted suicide earlier by driving her van into a river with her boys in it before. They were rescued by bystanders. These bystanders were said to be heros. This was thought to be an accident at the time.
Here is the link to that story

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