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Psychosis Blamed for Mother’s ‘Vile Act’

Times Staff Writer

A family friend testified Monday that Sheryl Massip told him just hours before she ran over her infant son that “after having a baby, a woman can regret it.”

The testimony came during opening day of the emotionally charged murder trial of Massip, 24, who claims that she was rendered temporarily insane because of a rare hormonal imbalance when she killed her 6-week-old baby in April, 1987.

Defense attorney Milton C. Grimes told a jury in his opening statement that the postpartum psychosis he says afflicted Massip turned her from a gentle, passive woman--squeamish even about seeing a bug killed--into a crazed killer capable of committing “a vile act.”

Postpartum psychosis, still a puzzling phenomenon to medical experts, has gained some recognition as a legal defense elsewhere around the nation, but Grimes will be putting the strategy to the test for the first time in a Southern California court.

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“At no time during (Massip’s) life did she ever give anyone the impression that she had a hidden, or any other, propensity for violence. . . . Up until the days of these events, that was her nature,” Grimes said. “The victim in this case is not just the deceased, but Sheryl Massip as well.”

But prosecutors, re-creating the day of the killing through their initial witnesses, sought to rebut that portrait by painting Massip as controlled, rational and deliberate at the time she ran over her son twice with her car.

Leslie Perry, a former receptionist for the pediatrician who had cared for Massip’s baby, told the court that she talked with Massip by phone the morning of the killing and that Massip was worried about problems with her insurance coverage.

Perry quoted Massip as telling her: “I hope that someone can help us before something bad happens.”

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Deputy Dist. Atty. Thomas J. Borris also gained potentially incriminating testimony against Massip from Henry Nisental, a friend of the family. Nisental did business with the defendant’s ex-husband, Alfredo Massip, who runs a janitorial service and who is expected to be a key prosecution witness later this week.

Nisental testified that when he visited the Massips on the morning of the killing, Sheryl Massip seemed bothered by the health and constant crying of her colicky baby. Nisental said Massip told him at one point: “After having a baby, a woman can regret it.”

In other testimony, Florence Jane Vazquez said that while driving in Anaheim on the morning of the killing, she had to swerve wildly to avoid hitting a small bundle that Sheryl Massip threw into the path of Vazquez’s oncoming car.

The bundle is believed to have held Massip’s son, Michael. Police have said that on the morning of the killing, Massip first tried to throw the baby into oncoming traffic, then hit him over the head with a blunt instrument and finally ran over the child twice with her car.

The baby’s body was found in a garbage can a few blocks away, shortly after Massip initially told police that her son had been kidnaped.

The murder trial in Superior Court in Santa Ana is expected to last several weeks.


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