MEDIA, PA., NOV. 18 -- A woman who enlisted scores of volunteers to help in an intensive therapy program for her disabled son Eric, 2 1/2, was sentenced today to five years' probation and 750 hours' community service for killing the child, who had not responded to the treatment.
Common Pleas Court Judge William Lipsitt said he did some "soul-searching" in deciding on the sentence for Irene Bernstein, 41, of Broomall. "It is extremely difficult," he said. "No judge can condone murder, and I certainly don't."
Bernstein had faced up to 20 years in prison and a $25,000 fine after pleading no contest Monday to third-degree murder. The prosecution had asked that she serve time in jail.
Bernstein collapsed sobbing as Lipsitt outlined the terms of the sentence.
Authorities had charged Bernstein with first-degree murder in Eric's death last May.
Eric was born prematurely and suffered from hyaline membrane disease, a respiratory disorder that hampered his ability to crawl and walk.
The Institutes for the Achievement of Human Potential in Wyndmoor prescribed a controversial therapy called "patterning." The program involved manipulating the boy's legs in a crawling motion every 20 minutes for 12 or more hours per day, on the theory that he would learn to crawl through repetition.
Bernstein enlisted 70 volunteers to help her. Defense attorneys contended that the shooting took place after Bernstein became distraught over the child's failure to respond to the exhausting regimen.
"In looking at the case, I read a psychologist's report which said the defendant didn't know what she was doing at the time. I read another report which said she did know," Lipsitt said.
"This of course only added to my difficulties. However, we know that psychology is not an exact science and, in the law, there are no absolutes either."
Under the sentence, Bernstein must perform 150 hours of community service each year. Her attorney, Garland D. Cherry, said she had expressed an interest in working at the county Geriatric Center.