Daniela Dawestells her story
By ZOE SATHERLEY
DANIELA DAWES let her tears flow as she told about the desperate impulse to end her son's life and attempt to take her own.
One black day in August, 2003, gripped by depression, this loving mother did the unthinkable ? she suffocated the little boy she loved.
"And that is something I will have to live with for every minute of every day for the rest of my life," she said, with tears streaming down her face.
Today, she has moved back from Sydney to her home town of Ballina, with her 14-year-old daughter, Alana.
Friends and family have stood by her through her traumatic trial for the manslaughter of her 10-year-old autistic son, Jason, and she is trying to pick up the pieces of her shattered life and live again ? 'one hour at a time'.
"Not a day passes when I don't regret what I did. Not a day passes when I don't cry for him," Daniela, 39, said.
After taking her son's life, Daniela tried to take her own. She deeply slashed both wrist arteries. When she was found by her mother she was unconscious and had no pulse. She was saved by blood transfusions, but her wrists still bear wide scars.
"But somehow I've got to put the past behind me and get on with life," she said.
"I want to be there for my beautiful daughter who has been such a tower of strength through all of this."
Alana wrote her mum a special note days after she was released on bail.
It said: 'I will not cry when I read this. I am a good mother. I did everything I could and I will continue to do everything for my children. I love myself and I thank God for making me a beautiful person. I love me for me and will never stop.'
"Alana told me I had to say that affirmation out loud twice a day, God bless her. It kept me sane," Daniela said.
Alana also wrote a letter to the trial judge saying her mother was her best friend and mentor and had courage and strength.
Today, the pair are closer than ever.
"We are struggling financially but we have each other and that's the important thing," Daniela said. "Contrary to what the Sydney media have said, I was never paid a cent for any story and I have lost everything paying for my legal bills."
Daniela said Jason was very much 'mummy's boy' as she proudly showed the photos of him displayed on her lounge room walls; photos she took in happier days. She explains Jason needed help with every aspect of his daily life, from going to the toilet to eating a meal.
He couldn't speak and his autism severely impacted on his ability to integrate into any kind of normal life. Caring for her son could be an exhausting 24-hour around-the-clock job. "But I loved him dearly," she said.
Daniela and her separated husband, Craig, had trouble getting support in caring for their son. She said the family struggled with inadequate early intervention services and limited respite.
They moved from Ballina to Kings Langley, in Sydney's western suburbs, thinking they'd get better services in a metropolitan area, but they got even less. That burden was made worse by ongoing marital problems.
Then, a serious issue came to light around Alana, which can't be revealed because of a court suppression order, and Daniela's depression and trauma increased. The sudden death of her father from a brain tumour was another compounding factor.
"Life was a living hell for me," she said. "All I could think of was that death was the only way to escape the pain. But I couldn't leave my beautiful boy behind because he was part of me.
"No-one could look after him and love him the way I did. We had to be together."
Daniela Dawes said she had the kind of deep and loving bond with her autistic son that only the mother of a child with a disability could fathom. It was hard to know where Jason ended and she began, she said.
"It was like I was an extension of his arms and legs and he was an extension of my very soul," she said.
"I believed we were one. We were inseparable, both emotionally and physically.
"When I tried to take my own life there was no way I could leave him behind to continue to suffer."
What has not been clearly reported is that Daniela Dawes had a long-standing mental illness.
Her entrenched clinical depression and inability to separate her identity from that of her autistic son was one of the crucial factors in the judge's decision not to jail her for Jason's manslaughter.
Judge Roy Ellis told Parramatta District Court: "It is the opinion of the court that the lives of the offender and her son were so intertwined in the mind of the offender, that a decision to end one was a decision to end both". He said he thought she had suffered enough and he wished her well.
Four independent psychiatrists, including one hired by the prosecution, diagnosed Daniela as suffering a major depressive illness at the time of the incident.
In June, 2004, Judge Ellis found Daniela guilty of manslaughter and put her on a five-year good behaviour bond. Last month an appeal against the leniency of the verdict was dismissed.