'My Sister Would Not Do That to Her Child'

A second-floor apartment at 50 Etzel Street, Tirat Carmel. Affixed to the front door is sign proclaiming: "Recipe for a happy home: two cups of understanding, friendship and plenty of love and warmth." In a bedroom is a pile of dolls, stuffed animals, games and children's books. Against one wall is the crib in which A. had slept for eight months, since he, his mother and his elder brother moved in. A., 18 months old, died Thursday, 10 days after he was hospitalized. Traces of the heroin-replacement drug methadone were found in his body. A.'s mother, 27, and her drug-addicted boyfriend, 30, are suspected in the death.

Hundreds of people attended the funeral yesterday. The mother, escorted by prison guards, collapsed when she saw her baby's shroud-wrapped body lifted up, not before mumbling, "My baby, my baby ..."

A. died at Haifa's Rambam Medical Center, where he was admitted in critical condition, already brain-dead. The doctors fought for 10 days to save his life. It was initially reported that the infant was suffering from hypothermia, but a toxicology screen revealed the presence of methadone in his system. A.'s mother and her boyfriend were arrested. Police believe the boyfriend administered the drug to the baby with the mother's assistance. The results of the autopsy, which will reveal the exact cause of death, are expected to be released today. Over the weekend the baby's father, who does not live with the mother, said she has neglected her sons for some time, but queries to the local welfare agency and evidence in the home revealed no evidence of neglect.

"It hurt my sister when the media said her son was suffering from hypothermia," M., the suspect's sister said yesterday, "and now she's being accused of neglecting her children - and of murder." M. added that A. and his six-year-old brother were "the apple of their mother's eye."

"She protected them from everything, she worried about the tiniest scratch, about every time one fell down. She devoted her life to them," the aunt of the deceased infant said. "My sister wasn't an addict, she worked as a housekeeper to support herself and her children."

M. opens the closet in her sister's home to reveal stacks of neatly folded children's clothing. "They didn't lack for anything. An injustice has been done to my sister, she's the victim here," she declared.

According to M., her sister left home at the age of 18 after falling in love with the man who later fathered her sons. He was divorced, with two children of his own. The two never married, and broke up in part because he abused her physically. They did not maintain regular contact.

The mother also did not maintain contact with her own family, which opposed her relationship with the boys' father. She met her current boyfriend about a month ago.

"I didn't know he was a junkie," M. said. "She's had a hard life, she didn't have relationships with men and she said he treated her well. We were relieved that finally she wasn't alone and decided to give her a chance at love."

M. recounted her sister's version of what happened the night that A. was hospitalized. "She put him down to sleep, and at 10:15 P.M. the baby cried. She got up and put him down again. He didn't cry during the night." At some point during the evening the boyfriend said he wanted to kiss the baby. He went to the baby's room and came back and told the baby's mother that A. was unconscious.

"We still don't know whether he went in and gave the baby something ... I don't trust anyone, but I am absolutely certain that my sister would not do that to her own child," M. added.

Both suspects will face a second arraignment hearing today.