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Advocates Push For Hate Crimes Prosecution In Autism Death

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A federal agency is joining a group of disability self-advocates to call for hate crimes charges in the death of a teen with autism.

Advocates say that federal charges are warranted after 14-year-old Alex Spourdalakis of River Grove, Ill. was found dead, allegedly at the hands of his mother and a fellow caregiver.

According to local media reports, Spourdalakis was stabbed to death earlier this month. His mother, Dorothy Spourdalakis, and a caregiver, Jolanta Agata Skrodzka, were found semiconscious nearby after attempting to take their own lives. Now the two are charged with first-degree murder in the case, with prosecutors alleging that the boy’s killing was premeditated.

Officials with the National Council on Disability and the Autistic Self Advocacy Network are urging federal prosecutors to bring hate crimes charges, arguing that Spourdalakis’ murder was motivated by his disability.

“Alex Spourdalakis did not die because of lack of services, or because living with or raising a child with a disability is difficult… No, Alex Spourdalakis was killed; killed by those entrusted to care for and protect him,” said Jeff Rosen, chairperson of the National Council on Disability, in a statement.

Rosen’s group is planning to meet with the FBI to discuss the case. The council — which advises the president and Congress on disability issues — has also requested a meeting with the U.S. Department of Justice. The Autistic Self Advocacy Network has asked for meetings with both entities as well.

For the moment, however, federal officials have not taken any public steps related to Spourdalakis’ death.

“We are aware of the matter and are monitoring the case,” Dena Iverson, a Justice Department spokeswoman, told Disability Scoop.

Hate crimes protections for people with disabilities are relatively new. A 2009 bill expanded federal law to allow for prosecution in cases where crimes are committed based on a person’s gender, sexual orientation, gender identity or disability. Previously, hate crimes protections dating back to 1968 covered crimes committed based on race, color, religion or national origin.

So far, the new disability protections have been exercised just once, with the Justice Department filing charges earlier this year against five individuals accused of holding people with disabilities captive in subhuman conditions for years in order to steal their Social Security benefits.

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Comments (31 Responses)

  1. Harry Hofherr says:

    NCD and ASAN are wrong. This was not a hate crime. It was a crime, absolutely, but it was a crime resulting from frustration and a profound sense of hopelessness. It was not perpetrated by hate, but I believe it was motivated by the misguided love of a mother and a caregiver. To label this hate crime is equally misguided.

  2. Marcy says:

    This a hate crime pure and simple, premeditated murder of a child who could not defend himself from those who were supposed to protect him. If they did not want the blessing of this child, give him to those who do. There are others out there who see the blessing as well as the challenges of raising a child with a disability. I am severely physically disabled and work with peers who are Autistic, I am insulted that they have not filed charges for a hate crime immediately on both his mother and care provider, HAHAH! Some care providers, they insult the name and work of all those who love and care for those with disabilities on this earth. Put them in jail now, to await the death penalty, the one they gave that boy!

  3. Wayne Rohde says:

    I think that Mr Rosen is just jumping on a very sad and difficult situation and trying to create a media opportunity for him.

    He does not know about the several weeks that Alex was handcuffed, naked, and almost starved by Loyola Hospital staff. They even stated that they did not know how to treat him, his severe GI issues, his severe pain.

    Yes, there was a murder. And his mother and care provider should be held accountable.

    But where was Mr. Rosen when Alex’s horrible journey at the hospital was front and center? Where was Rosen when many of our children wander away and found later in a pond? Where was Rosen when several of our children are beaten in the schools or on the buses? No where. Before pointing fingers Mr. Rosen, look at your past history.

  4. David F. says:

    I hpoe those people rot in jail! Being a parent of a child with a disability, I can not phathum the thought of hurting such an inocent child of GOD!

  5. 2onthespectrum says:

    I agree with Harry Hofherr. Had there been more support available this would not have happened. If this was a hate crime, the mother and caregiver certainly would not have tried to kill themselves as well. The word “misguided” certainly applies.

  6. Bill Lewis says:

    So why is this a hate crime? This article does not explain what happened. This seems like a poorly written article just used to gain attention

  7. Teresa says:

    This is as far away from being a hate crime as you can get; it is a tragedy and an indication that mental health care in Illinois is very hard to come by for some people. The woman (and the caregiver) were way over their skis but apparently had no clue as to where to go for help for the young man. They were isolated and just beyond their abilities in dealing with a big, strong profoundly autistic almost-adult. No one in this situation had anything even remotely resembling a life.

  8. MsAmericanPatriot says:

    It wasn’t a hate crime. It was an angel of mercy type of killing. The mother was at the end of her rope and couldn’t take the stress anymore so she snapped. The lower functioning an autistic individual is the more stressful it can be. There needs to be more support measures in place.

  9. Yvette says:

    Sad but I really do not think its a hate crime. However I do not have one iota of sympathy for the mother, She did not have to kill the child. All the news stories focus on her and how hard her ,life was well raising any kid is hard. Yes have a child on the spectrum is hard but that does not give you the right to kill

  10. leona says:

    i have two disabled children and one of them has autism i will not ever want to harm my two reason for living they give me so much joy

  11. Jon K. Evans says:

    I think that the recent death of a severely autistic teen was a botched mercy killing-rather than a Hate Crime per se. Nevertheless, Hate Crimes do occur, and most often, not only are the victims persons with disabilities and developmental disorders-such as Autism, but anyone that is the least bit socially different is at risk of hate crimes.

  12. Jennie says:

    On the same page as this article is another article titled, “Autism Moms Have Stress Similar To Combat Soldiers”, and there is a high suicide rate amongst returning soldiers. If moms have similar stress why not similar coping strategies. I agree this sounds like a parent who saw no other viable alternative. There is absolutely no comparing the support needs of someone with a mild-moderate disability and someone with severe autism. These are situations the public and disability community cannot fathom. Pursuing this as a hate crime is ridiculous and lame. Some advocates do far more harm than good. Save this for the people who are raped, exploited and imprisoned because of their vulnerability (a daily occurrence), not for hopeless, overwhelmed parents.

  13. Laurie LaGoe says:

    Our whole paradigm must be changed from the way farm animals are treated to the way people with disabilities are treated. That mentality of blame the victim and scapegoating must be eliminated once and for all!

  14. Adriana says:

    Hate crime. Premeditated, she was offered help and refused, the son was strapped in bed and she kept signing authorization to do that to him.
    Premeditated, tried to kill him with pills, stabbed him several times and almost severed his wrist.
    Hate crime. She was offered help with him and refused
    Hate crime

  15. Teresa Roberts says:

    There are so many doors to knock down when you have a child with special needs. I will not excuse her behavior because she was frustrated. We passed laws so Mother’s could drop off their infants at hospitals to prevent their murders or reckless abandonment. We can do the same for individuals with special needs. I had to bang on a few doors myself. Finding out as much as possible to receive care for my son with Autism. I consider myself an advocate for people with disabilities. Still much to learn. People like to look at the other way, and not get involved, but there are many who do care. Hate crime? I don’t know, but excusing it, is pathetic.

  16. KA101 says:

    The hate-crime definition applicable here is whether the victim was killed based on xyr membership in a protected class, such as race, age, gender, or in this case, disability.

    Mr. Spourdalakis’ caregivers murdered him based on his autism diagnosis. Thus, it’s a hate crime.

    We’re sick and tired of being killed because caregivers can’t cope; especially where, as here, Ms. Spourdalakis was offered services and turned them down. (Calling in Mr. Wakefield doesn’t help my opinion of her any.)

  17. patm says:

    It is such a sad situation. The mother refused services offered and thought she knew better. There is a huge bias against the use of medications in this field. Hospitals, nursing homes, police and paramedics, and most agencies,etc, are just not equipped to handle these very strong young people having panic attacks and other abnormal brain responses to normal stimuli. The response of their sympathetic nervous system causes the out of control symptoms which could be helped with the judicious use of medications. But so many people are totally against the use of ANY medications and situations get out of control. This will be used as a political issue but those of us in the field see situations like this young man on a weekly basis and we, as a society, sometimes have to step in and take control of a situation beyond the family’s control. So very very sad for him and all his family and the caregiver too.

  18. Whitney says:

    I do not believe it is hate crime either. It is a crime yes but not enough to merit a hate crime status. If anything it does show the lack of support for parents with autistic children from society in general. It is easier to cast blame on the mother for snapping not fix the societal lack of support problems. I am not giving the mother a pass for killing her child but this is too extreme of a charge and hurts the people with autism and Hate Crimes Act.

  19. mumtothree says:

    It is a tragedy that this family could not get the help that was obviously needed. I know nothing of the details, but I’ll bet it was not for lack of trying. I have heard of parents take their child to the court house or the state house because they can’t cope and aren’t getting anywhere with their state agencies charged with supporting the needs of families with a developmentally disabled child, or a disabled adult child.

    A crime is a crime – labeling it a “hate crime” will increase the penalty and perhaps move the case to federal court. As well as increase the profile of the prosecutor.

  20. rkh says:

    The fact that the mother and the caregiver attempted to take their own lives says something about the stress they were living under. Maybe they worried about his future in ways that can only be imagined.

    This was a crime, but surely not something inspired by racism or hatred of persons with disabilities or autism. Perhaps it had to do with despair.

    I remember a man who killed his son, then shot himself, because of his despair over the lack of a future for his son. He was a devoted father.

  21. Paula C. Durbin-Westby says:

    Here we go again. “Angel of mercy?” I hope no “angel of mercy” stabs me repeatedly and almost cuts off my hand. Hate crimes prosecution is needed to provide a needed caution to “caregivers” getting away with the heinous, typically painful and gruesome murders of people with disabilities.

  22. Paula C. Durbin-Westby says:

    I have been coming to the realization that I would feel very uncomfortable with any adult, including parents, who dismisses this murder, being around my child for any unsupervised length of time. I just hope I don’t see any of the parents I know calling this an “act of love” or a “mercy killing.” It will make me have to rethink playdates.

  23. sara willig says:

    Alex was killed because he was Autistic. I am Autistic. My only older sibling is severely so. I know all about the stress a family goes through. We went through it in rural NJ in the 1970s. There were no family supports, nobody had heard of Autism except specialists. Dont talk to me about familial stress. My brother had his 47th birthday last month.

    There is always another option besides killing.

    How can you sit there and type ‘mercy killing’? I see that and I read ‘your life is not worth as much as mine’ . I read ‘If I had your life, I hope someone would kill me’.

    My life, and Alex’s too, is at least as rich and as meaningful as yours. Which is why this murder needs to be tried as a hate crime. Because you needed to have this explained.

  24. Dad octane says:

    The NCD has no expertise here other than trying to bring attention to itself. Let the State’s Attorney do its job and prosecute these criminals the best way they judge will bring justice for Alex, free from the uninformed armchair quarterbacking from Rosen and Ne’eman. If charging these defendants with a hate crime, which could be harder to prove, lessens the probability of a conviction, who would want to go that route? Leave it to to professionals, NCD.

  25. Nanaymie Kasmira Godfrey says:

    HATE versus LACK OF SUPPORT AND UNDERSTANDING: I have rarely met family members who HATE their relatives experiencing disabilities. I HAVE met and worked with families exasperated by the lack of monies and services to support the needs of their beloved relatives who suffer the often myriad of conditions that accompany many of these disorders. UNTIL legal advocates are willing to ask WHY things happen, we will never understand WHY incidents like this occur. FACTS: 1) The economy is still suffering
    2) Social services are cut before ANYTHING ELSE! 3) IN a time of financial cuts, medications needed for people with disabilities often run out 4) In conditions, like AUTISM, where there can be severe behavioral problems, medications can help families who have been left to deal with their loved ones with less and less outside support 5) Many of these medications will cause a rebound in behavioral outbursts when withdrawn abruptly.

    Questions to ask in the defense of these women?
    1) Was there a change in services provided?
    2) Was there a change in the access to medications?
    3) Is there documentation of requests for extra support by family and caregivers?
    4) Is there documentation of behavioral escalation with the change in medication?

    While killing is certainly a punishable act, assuming motivation without evidence is unjust! It is easy to REACT to these events with ANGER but it MUST BE UNDERSTOOD that REACTIONS are motivated by personal unresolved traumatic triggers… not the facts in the case. For justice to be served, we must ask WHY these events occurred. If we neglect to do so, the young man’s death and all those who have suffered from the often complex social ills which allow this kind of violence to occur will continue to flourish!

  26. Whitney says:

    I am saying it is not a murder but does it merit to become a Hate Crime. The answer is no. The mother did not specifically target a person with disabilities to commit or torture a person. I remember couple crimes like in regards of Matthew Shepard and a African American who were both brutally murder. In both cases these persons were targeted and brutally murdered in a inhumane act. The mother did not got out of her way to find a an Autistic person nor she targeted a that person because of being different from her.

    The mother should charge with 1st degree murder of her son as if it is a non-disabled person.

  27. sara willig says:

    Two adults charged with caring for a boy decided to execute him because he was Disabled.

    Most of the commentators below are excusing their decigion.

    It is excusable to murder the Disabled because we are inconvienient; we make people uncomfortable; we are not quite human.

  28. lilady R.N. says:

    My son was born with a rare genetic disorder which caused profound and multiple physical, intellectual and medical disabilities, along with a partially controlled grand mal seizure disorder, a bleeding disorder (pancytopenia) and autistic-like behaviors…not autism. He was a happy child who struggled to survive and touched the lives of everyone who knew him for the 28 years he survived; he died peacefully in his sleep at age 28, nine years ago. Upon his death, he touched the lives of the people whose vision was restored with his corneas and whose broken hearts were mended with his heart valves. I miss him so much for the joy he brought into my life.

    There is a back story about the events that led to Alex’s gruesome murder committed by his mother and his full-time caregiver/godmother. Alex’s “story” was serialized and featured on a notorious anti-vaccine, anti-science blog and his mother who sought “15 weeks of fame” collaborated with that blog and a contributor to that blog and posted videos of Alex unclothed except for an adult diaper, “supposedly” in 4-point restraints, when he was hospitalized. The mother and the *journalist* from that blog lied about Alex’s hospitalizations and the services that were offered to him.

    Andrew Wakefield, the disgraced and discredited former doctor from the U.K., now residing in Texas, visited Alex in the hospital and was videotaped at his bedside; another tawdry attempt to garner publicity for himself by using an innocent child.

    I am not a lawyer, but whoever prosecutes Alex’s mother and her accomplice for the brutal premeditated murder of this innocent child, should be thoroughly investigate those individuals and that anti-vaccine, anti-science organization, who, aided and abetted those horrible women who plunged the knife into Alex’s chest and slit his wrists so that he would bleed out.

    The entire sordid back story has been discussed by a physician/science blogger at “Respectful Insolence” (“Autism biomed and the murder of Alex Spourdalakis”-June 14, 2013)

  29. Whitney says:

    Sarah

    Nobody excusing the crime as murder if anything we are discussing does it merit as a Hate Crime under the Justice Department. We pretty much agree it is a crime. I am still not sure if it is a Hate Crime.

    If I was a Lawyer I would gone the route of Murder 1st degree and not pursue it under the Federal Law of the Hate Crime Act.. Since the Lawyer is using the Hate Crime Act as means to garner attention in order to make high profile case. In my taste this also in poor taste the woman is guilty under another Law which easier but less glamorous for the Lawyer. That is where I have a problem with. Also it is tax payers who are going fit the bill and a less expensive and equally effective way was not used. It might turn against the Disability Adovocates who have other lawsuits are pending could make things harder. There are times to call attention to something and there is a time not to.

    Most people are going get sick of the trial of George Zimmerman now this guy he can be charge with a Hate Crime.

  30. Sarah says:

    I don’t see Alex’s death at the hands of his mother as a hate crime. I see it as an act of desperation. saying Alex death was a hate crime this does not fit in my mind. the motivation in this case is desperation not hate. I don’t think she hated her son. The way I see it is that she was at the end of her rope couldn’t handle caring for him anymore. (and no I am not trying to justify this at all)

  31. Eric says:

    As a 28 year old man with Asperger’s Syndrome, I have to speak my peace on this matter. This is a hate crime. Plain and simple. Yes, Alex needed a lot of support and never got it and yes, it caused the family a lot of stress, but, lets be clear here. Stress is by no means whatsoever an excuse nor call for murder. Trust me, if it was, there would be a lot of people I’d want to kill. Lol. Come to think of it a lot of stress does come from hate.

    As for the “angel of mercy” argument, I regret to say that it is terribly misinformed. Terribly. It is incredibly mainstream, yes, and because of that, many people can follow the attitude blindly without giving it serious thought, but that doesn’t make it correct in any way shape or form. You don’t improve a person’s quality of life by ending it. Not to mention that in Alex’s case, he was non-verbal, so he could not communicate how he felt about his life. Even if he wasn’t, you improve a person’s quality of life by getting them the help they need.

    Now, it is true that Dorothy tried vigorously to get him help without any success, but media often misrepresents exactly how to go about helping severely autistic individuals and she was honestly hitting a lot of wrong keys and she honestly let a lot of her rage build up on her through her own mistakes. Now, whether this is due to malicious intent or ignorance, I do not honestly know, but it really should not be considered a relevant factor in this case.

    Now, I don’t think Dorothy hated Alex, but he was targeted out of hatred in general and was targeted based on his disability. I don’t think Dorothy, because of social stigmas and attitudes was fully aware of how much she hates autism. Autism is often promoted as worthy of hatred as a condition and treated like a disease rather than a disability. One thing that promotes our dehumanization is vaccine conspiracies that have been proven time and again to be incorrect. Now, even if these are correct, this does not mean that it is not hateful to treat us as if we were some monstrosities caused by toxic bioengineering as if we were some subhuman robots out of a science fiction movie. Jolanta has spoken up angrily in support of this nutty little theory in the past.

    Now, I honestly feel kinda sorry for Dorothy and the insanity she put herself through, I really do, but misinformed hatred is still hatred all the same. It is tragic, yes, but sentencing her to life in a federal prison on hate crime charges is the just and right thing to do. I do not feel like any preexisting of Dorothy’s own is responsible for any of this. The type of insanity Dorothy went through was frustration from misinformation and mistakes that she herself made. If this gets prosecuted as a hate crime, justice would truly be served and it would send a positive message across the country (and possibly the world) that we are people and should be treated as such.

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