On February 5, 2010, Gigi Jordan, a divorced mother of an autistic child, was arrested for the murder of her 8-year-old boy, Jude. Police reports indicate that the child was given a lethal combination of prescription drugs. Jordan, who has a history of psychosis, has been held without bail ever since.
She was found slumped on the floor of the crime scene, foaming at the mouth and muttering incoherently in what appears to be a twisted murder-suicide attempt. In a suicide note found near her, Jordan said she feared a looming divorce and custody battle. But these were delusions—Jordan is unmarried (she divorced two years ago) and no such custody battle existed. During the course of the proceedings, Jordan has made several other unsupported claims, including that she killed her autistic son to save him from being raped by his father and stepfather.
Her wealth apparently did not make her immune to the psychological breakdown that could conceivably be triggered by years of caring for an autistic child.
Autism impacts families across ethnic and economic lines, and the agony it causes mothers and fathers can be mentally crushing. Jordan, a pharmaceutical executive, is wealthy by any measurement. But her wealth apparently did not make her any more immune to the psychological breakdown that could conceivably be triggered by years of caring for an autistic child. Even the boy’s father, Emil Tzekov, recognized the helplessness of the situation. When speaking after Jude’s death, he said, “[Jordan] had money and all the right connections. And to see him suffering… he was a good boy, but sometimes he would bang his head on the floor and scream and scream. He was in pain. His immune system was attacking his brain. She must have felt helpless.”
One would hope that the publicity swirling around this tragic crime would focus a spotlight on the level of stress endured by parents of autistic children. And one would also hope that the case would stimulate a rational public debate about what families of autistic children endure, and how they can be better armed to cope with the agony caused by the disease.
Strangely, this public discourse is missing, perhaps because it is hard to feel sympathy for a mother accused of killing a child. Or perhaps it’s because the tabloid reporting of the crime has obscured the true psychological impacts of raising an autistic son.
Thanks to the treatment given to this case by some New York media outlets, the writers of Law & Order likely cannot wait until the murder charges against Gigi Jordan have been resolved so they can base some future episode on them. Jordan’s case has all the features that the tabloids love: a murder in a suite at the posh Peninsula Hotel on Fifth Avenue, a divorced and extremely wealthy suspect. These are the angles the tabloids have chosen to focus on. It is next to impossible to find a story written about the case that does not mention the fact that Jordan is a multimillionaire.
If this case proves anything, it’s that autism impacts families regardless of financial status. The application of the law in this case should be equally indiscriminant—wealthy individuals like Jordan should face the full brunt of the law without favoritism. But we should expect that the application of the law should also be blind to any individual’s financial status, whether they are rich or poor. In the Jordan case, her wealth makes her an easy target for the press, but to the judge and prosecutor her financial wherewithal should be irrelevant.
In other words, the criminal justice system needs to treat Jordan the same as it would treat any mom accused of a similar crime against a defenseless child. Just because Jordan has money doesn’t mean she was protected from the mental havoc autism can wreak.
But this bias appears to be already happening. Recently, Jordan was denied bail because she is wealthy and, curiously, while acknowledging that Jordan had mental-health issues, the judge refused a request from her lawyer that she be transferred to a secure mental-health facility. Thanks to Bernie Madoff, the excesses of Wall Street, and the populist view that wealthy taxpayers need to pay more in taxes, the public is not very tolerant of the so-called rich these days.
There is a reason why Lady Justice wears a blindfold. Justice to be served must be delivered without regard to one’s station in life. Unfortunately, as Jordan continues to be labeled by the press as a rich socialite, the seriousness of her child’s autism and even her own mental illness may continue to be overlooked. Just as important is the question of whether the salacious reporting of her case will effectively deny Jordan a fair trial.
Such an outcome would not be a good story line for Law & Order.
Dennis C. Vacco was elected as New York State Attorney General in 1994. Prior to that, Mr. Vacco was appointed as the United States Attorney for the Western District of New York State by President Ronald Reagan.