A woman who drowned her four-year-old daughter in a bathtub six years ago told a Toronto court yesterday she hoped to have children in the future — then walked out a free woman.
“I still want to have a baby. I won’t kill another baby,”
said Xuan Peng, 38, in between sobs after she pleaded guilty to manslaughter.
Peng was sentenced to five years in prison. Since she had already been in pre-trial custody for 30 months, Peng was given two-for-one credit for time served and was released yesterday afternoon.
She was originally convicted of second-degree murder in March 2008 and was sentenced to life in prison with no eligibility for parole for at least 10 years. The conviction was quashed and a new trial ordered last December, when it was revealed Superior Court Justice Mary Lou Benotto erred in her instructions to the jury.
In a statement of facts submitted to the court, the prosecution and the defence agreed to a manslaughter charge and the lenient term noting the significance of Peng’s bipolar disorder when coupled with raising an autistic child.
“Given her unique circumstances, especially given the stresses in her life and her mental state, a five-year prison sentence seemed the appropriate range,” assistant Crown attorney Joshua Levy said.
Peng gave birth to her daughter, Scarlett, in 2000 and went into depression. Unable to care for her daughter, Peng and her then-husband sent Scarlett to live with her maternal grandmother in China. When Scarlett and Peng’s mother returned in 2004, Scarlett was diagnosed with autism.
The same afternoon Scarlett was diagnosed, Peng was left alone with the child for three hours — the first time Scarlett had been solely in her mother’s care since September 2001. Frustrated by her daughter’s disruptive behaviour, Peng pushed her daughter’s head underwater in the family bathtub.
A pediatric pathologist later declared Scarlett could have lost consciousness in as little as 30 seconds.
“To use the vernacular, Ms. Peng simply ‘snapped,’ ” said Justice Ian Nordheimer. “The facts of this case are, to say the least, tragic.” Although Judge Nordheimer acknowledged Peng’s five-year prison sentence is “at the low end” of the manslaughter prosecution spectrum, he noted the circumstances of the case are unique and Peng does not pose a danger to society.
Defence lawyer Edward Hung expressed Peng’s regret for her actions and intention to seek counselling.
“She has come to grips with the mistake she has made,” he said. “A huge mistake.”
Peng addressed a group of reporters outside the downtown Toronto courthouse after being released, describing the death of her daughter as “the most stupid thing I have ever done.”
“I will feel great regret the rest of my life,” Peng said. “I miss my daughter every day. I still love my daughter. I hate autism.”
Peng, who has no family in Canada, intends to return to China.