Child's autism could play role in local mother's murder case

Patricia Corby accused in son's drowning death

SAN DIEGO - A local mother is charged with an unthinkable crime, but she may have an unusual defense for the death of her four-year-old son.

Neda Saadeti and Cheri Carey have little in common.

Saadeti has been a hairstylist in San Diego for 10 years, and training never prepared Carey -- a psychologist -- for raising her son Ben, who is now 13 years old.

Ben is autistic and can't talk, but he's a very cool kid, according to Carey.

"I had no idea what extreme parenting really was," said Carey.

While Saadeti and Carey don't know each other, their lives intersected at a shared tragedy -- the death of four-year-old Daniel Vincent Corby, who was autistic.

"There is a tremendous sense of mourning," said Carey, who told 10News the boy's death -- allegedly at the hands of his mother, Patricia Corby -- last spring ripped through the autistic community in San Diego.

Corby was seen weeping in court, her head hidden in shame. Many in the local autistic community are conflicted about the death of young Daniel.

"We as a community love our kids and we think of them as our kids," said Carey.

Carey, former president of the San Diego Autistic Society, said 5,000 San Diego children are affected by autism.

While not forgiving of a child's alleged murder, Carey believes there is a much deeper story to the boy's death.

"I know who she is; she is not a murderer, she's not an evil person," said Saadeti.

Saadeti has been Patricia Corby's friend for six years. She said Corby's life changed after Daniel's birth.

"She wasn't the same person, happy, bubbly … [she was] under a lot of stress to make a living, to care for her son," said Saadeti.

Saadeti said Corby would bring Daniel to her shop. She called Corby a caring mother struggling to deal with Daniel's autism and having very little money.

Carey said that unless you have an autistic child, you have no idea of the pressure parents feel having to provide care 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

"It's really a hard life and it goes on for years," said Carey.

Corby's husband was a bookkeeper who was out of work at times, and she was trying to find a part-time job at night, all adding to the pressure on the family.

Carey thinks back to when Ben was Daniel's age.

"It was rough, it was so hard. When I think about what life would be like for Patricia, I think back to what life was like for us and it was really, really hard," said Carey.

Former San Diego District Attorney Paul Pfingst said current District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis has to consider a possible defense plea based on the Daniel's autism and the mother's frame of mind at the tiem of the boy's death.

"The fact that the mother brought this to the attention of the police department, is extraordinarily remorseful and the factors leading up to it," said Pfingst.

According to authorities, the 36-year-old Corby turned herself in with her son wrapped in a blanket. Authorities said Corby was still wet after allegedly drowning Daniel in a bathtub and trying to drown herself.

In court, Colby hid her face behind her long black hair. Her shame and humiliation was clear to those attending her recent preliminary hearing. Deep sobs and frantic whispers were all that could be heard from Corby.

Pfingst believes this is not a death penalty case, but the defense will still have to work at presenting a sympathetic picture of the mother to the jury.

Pfingst said the jury "will be sad, they will try to understand it, but they will not excuse it."

Saadeti said sadness is part of her visit with Corby in jail.

"She misses her baby. That's all she says," said Saadeti.

Saadeti said she and Corby will remain friends forever.

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