Sobbing quietly, Sheryl Lynn Massip testified Monday that in the weeks before she ran over her 6-week-old son with a car on her birthday a year ago last spring, she heard eerie voices “telling me Michael is in pain . . . commanding me to put him out of his misery.”
In his cross-examination, the prosecutor in Massip’s murder trial immediately challenged what he saw as discrepancies in her story and sought to portray the killing as a deliberate act of frustration spurred in part by the deterioration of Massip’s marriage.
This was the 24-year-old Anaheim woman’s first time on the witness stand, and she kept her eyes closed for much of her 4 hours of testimony in Superior Court in Santa Ana. She cried sporadically as she recounted in often painful detail the events that led up to the death of her son, Michael, on April 29, 1987.
Massip called the event “a nightmare” that “I will have to live with for the rest of my life.”
Massip maintains that she was temporarily insane at the time of the killing, suffering from a rare maternal disorder known as postpartum psychosis. Researchers say that about three in every 1,000 new mothers are victims of the disorder.
Massip testified that she was enthusiastic about the birth of her son, in March, 1987, but soon found herself “out of control” in her actions and emotions as she tried to take care of the baby, who she said suffered from colic and cried 15 to 18 hours a day.
In the weeks after the boy was born, she said, she was unable to eat or sleep and let her physical condition deteriorate. She began to hear the sound of his crying even when she was not with him, she said.
“I wanted to be the perfect mother, the perfect wife, and I wasn’t being that,” she testified. “I’ve never been as nervous in my life. . . . I was confused. I was doing everything in my power to comfort my son and my husband, and I couldn’t do anything right. I just felt worthless as a wife and a mother, and I felt worthless as a person.”
Massip testified that she began hearing eerie high-pitched voices that sounded “like a record player when it’s on high speed” and that she saw walls move and had dream-like visions of hurling herself out a window. But, she said, she denied these experiences, hoping that they would go away.
“My life was the one in danger,” she said, crying. “I didn’t have thoughts of harming (the baby), but I had thoughts of harming myself.”
Her eyes closed tightly as if in concentration, Massip used choppy sentences and passive descriptions to relate events that she said seemed to her like a dream-like trance.
“Nothing was real,” she said. “The whole 6 weeks (of the baby’s life) seemed like one day, one long day.”
Massip said she heard voices telling her that the child was in pain--voices that she said continued until the moment she placed her son under the front left wheel of the family’s Volvo and ran over him.
“I just see myself placing him” under the tire, she said. “I couldn’t control what was happening. . . . I didn’t know what I was doing.”
Massip testified that in her view, “Michael was real 1 minute and not real the next.” On the day of his death, she said, “I didn’t see him as being my son . . . as being a human being. I thought he was a doll or something.”
As she broke into tears, she added: “If I was conscious” at the time of the killing, “that would have never happened. . . . I wouldn’t do that in my right mind--there’s no way.”
Massip said that for her first 2 months in jail after her arrest, “I was hoping that Michael would come back . . . that it was all just a dream and nothing was real.”
After defense attorney Milton C. Grimes finished his extensive questioning, Deputy Dist. Atty. Thomas J. Borris began his cross-examination. In it, Borris asked questions intended to show that Massip “finally ran out of patience” with the baby but was not crazy.
Asked by Borris about her attempt to “cover up” the killing by telling police the baby had been kidnaped by a mystery woman with orange hair, Massip responded: “I didn’t lie. . . . I was telling them what I was seeing at that time.”
Borris asked whether Massip killed the baby in order to eliminate an obstacle in her relationship with her husband, Alfredo Massip, who has since divorced her and appeared as a key witness for the prosecution. Sheryl Massip denied that was her motive.
Borris also asked about several potentially incriminating statements he said Massip made to investigators after the killing. Massip frequently responded that she did not recall those conversations, to which Borris responded: “Your memory was much better on April 29 than it is today, wasn’t it?”