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Plea Of Innocent Entered For Mother In Son’s Death

July 7, 1987

MEDIA, Pa. (AP) _ A woman accused of murdering her brain-damaged son after she allegedly snapped under the stress of the child’s rigorous therapy program stood silent in court Tuesday, and a judge entered her plea as innocent.

Irene Bernstein was charged with first-degree murder in the May 11 shooting death of 2 1/2 -year-old Eric, who had been born prematurely and suffered from hyaline membrane disease, a respiratory disorder.

When her attorney said she would plead on the advice of counsel, Common Pleas Judge William Lipsitt said, ″I will enter a plea of not guilty.″ Lipsitt said he expected to set a trial date for sometime in September.

Before the two-minute proceeding, Mrs. Bernstein sat at the defense table between her attorney and husband, wiping her eyes with a handkerchief. Afterward, she and her husband left by a side door without comment.

Assistant District Attorney Robert Keller read the information against the 40-year-old Mrs. Bernstein that alleged she ″unlawfully, knowingly and intentionally killed Eric Bernstein.″

When ordered held for trial last month, police read a statement Mrs. Bernstein made admitting she shot her son.

″I got the gun. I shot my boy. I shot my boy. I shot my boy,″ her statement said. ″I wanted to shoot myself, but I couldn’t. Oh God. Oh God.″

Roy Stegena, her attorney, said after Mrs. Bernstein’s arrest that she had snapped under stress of ″patterning,″ the rigorous and radical therapy that was failing to help Eric.

Asked Tuesday what his defense would be, Stegena said, ″There is certainly a possibility of an insanity defense and all indications point to that. We have 30 days to file such a pretrial motion.″

Stegena said Mrs. Bernstein was ″being treated medically for her problems″ but declined to say whether the doctor was a psychiatrist.

The disease had hampered Eric’s ability to crawl and walk, and the Bernsteins enlisted the help of scores of volunteers in their suburban Broomall neighborhood in the exercise program. Eric’s limbs had to be manipulated regularly so he could learn to move on his own.

Police were called by the parents, who found Eric’s body on the floor of his bedroom. He had been shot in temple and the back of his head and a .32- caliber handgun, which Mrs. Bernstein said was hers, was found near the bed.

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