A cocaine-using woman who murdered her 19-month-old daughter by scalding her and leaving the toddler screaming in agony was a crime “as disturbing as it is tragic”, a judge has said.
Katie Crowder killed Gracie Crowder by pouring hot water over her at their home in Wharmby Avenue, Mansfield, Nottinghamshire, and then spent the next hour “clearing up” before taking the youngster to her parents’ house in the same street.
At the 26-year-old’s trial, prosecutors said it was “not an instant death”, adding “it would have taken in the region of one hour for her to die”.
Jailing Crowder for life with a minimum term of 21 years at Nottingham Crown Court on Wednesday, Mr Justice Jeremy Baker said the crime was “as disturbing as it is tragic”, adding that the little girl would have been in “intense pain”.
He said: “You poured a significant quantity of scalding water over Gracie’s face and body while she was sat in a pool of equally hot water, causing deep burns to at least 65% of the surface of her skin.
“It is clear from the medical evidence that this would have caused Gracie intense pain, that would have led her to cry out vigorously, become distressed and seek to physically escape from the source of the heat.
“Furthermore, her death would not have occurred swiftly; on the contrary, Gracie would have continued to suffer pain and distress for a significant period of time – an hour or more.”
He added that the resulting loss of fluid from the toddler’s blood vessels caused by the injuries eventually led to organ failure and death.
The judge added: “For whatever reason, instead of seeking prompt medical attention for Gracie, which may well have saved her life, you did not seek assistance from your parents, who lived a few doors away, until after Gracie had died.
“Thereafter all attempts to save her life, both by the paramedics at the scene and doctors at the hospital, were rendered futile.”
The judge said he had taken account of psychiatric reports concluding that Crowder was suffering depression and “mental and behavioural disorders”, secondary to substance abuse, at the time she killed Gracie.
Crowder had also texted her girlfriend the night before Gracie’s death, saying she was “contemplating taking drastic action” because she was “fed up” with her parents trying to take the youngster into their care.
However, the judge said: “I am not satisfied this necessarily encompassed killing Gracie, as opposed to taking your own life.”
He added that he had “no doubt” Crowder had taken a significant amount of cocaine on the morning of the killing but could not be sure whether it was before or after she poured the scalding water over the child.
Mr Justice Baker said her actions amounted to a “gross breach of trust”, but there was not enough evidence that she intended to kill Gracie rather than cause “really serious harm”.
He said her drugs habit may well have been a “coping mechanism” after trauma suffered in childhood.
“This may also have led to your feelings of anger you have continued to experience and which from time to time have manifested,” added the judge.
Gracie was pronounced dead shortly after her arrival at hospital on March 6 after suffering deep burns.
Crowder’s trial heard that, on arrival at her parents’ house, the defendant sounded “panicked” as she knocked on the door, telling Paul and Karen Crowder: “She’s dead, she’s dead.”
Mrs Crowder asked her daughter “What the hell have you done?”, to which she responded: “I don’t know, I found her like this.”
The killer had made comments about her child in the past, saying: “I need to get her to nursery, I never get a break at all.”
She was arrested at King’s Mill Hospital in Sutton-in-Ashfield, Nottinghamshire, and, when cautioned, replied: “What? I would never hurt her.”
Crowder had denied murder but a jury dismissed claims that she had been “cleaning up a mess from the puppy” before finding Gracie face down in the bathroom beside a mop bucket.
The judge said: “Over the period of time which Gracie had been in your care since her birth … you had a close and loving relationship with your daughter and provided her with a reasonable standard of care.
“Not only has Gracie lost her life as a result of what you did to her that morning, your family have lost their grandchild and niece and you have also lost a daughter.”