Anderson Recounts the Moments Before her Son's Death
As published in The Independent May 7,2002
By Dwana Simone Bain
REDWOOD CITY - If she could go back in time, she wouldn't have killed him. Instead, she would have taken him away to "London or Mexico." Or Canada. "Canada was right there ... that was pretty stupid," Donna Anderson said.
But at the time she repeatedly stabbed her 13-year-old son Stephen with a kitchen knife, Anderson felt it her only choice.
"I didn't want to kill my son, believe me. Both of us have died," Anderson said. "This is a nightmare. I loved my son."
In a May 2 jailhouse interview, a pensive Anderson spoke for almost an hour about the life she's led and the mistakes she made. She spoke of her estrangement with her family. And she spoke of the day she killed her only son and stabbed his father as the man tried to restrain her. "I feel horrible about how I ran my life, because I blew it," Anderson said. But the murder was not when she blew it, she believes. Anderson insists she murdered Stephen in an effort to protect him from a tragic future of pornography and child prostitution. "To have to pick between death and death for your children is horrible," she said.
The 49-year-old doctor is now being evaluated for her competency. Already seen by two court-appointed psychiatrists, the court will rule Friday whether it is necessary to appoint a third as tiebreaker. Anderson -- who has never admitted to being psychologically ill -- offered her own opinion on her state of mind. "I'm extremely regretful and heartbroken," she said. Heartbroken over her "real crime" -- moving to Minnesota in 1999. "I'll live with the heartbreak of that [decision] forever."
Sometimes, Anderson dreams about the pain her son must have felt as he died in his grandparents' Burlingame home. "I've felt it [the pain] actually." The pain takes Anderson's mind back to three years ago, and her move to Minnesota -- a move Anderson believes began the chain of events that led to the murder. With a good job prospect, Anderson said she asked her mother and brother for "permission" to move back to her home state. The family gave "glowing reports" about the twin cities area, she said. With a biracial child, Anderson was concerned that Minnesota was racist -- a suggestion she says her brother "categorically denied." But Anderson found herself disappointed in Minnesota. "It was a fundamental mistake to believe what they said about their world," she said.
She realized her relationship with her family wouldn't be as close as she'd envisioned. Her mother -- who'd visited her for weeks in California - stopped visiting overnight, Anderson said. Her brother planned a fishing trip for the boys and men in the family and "he didn't invite Stephen," Anderson remembers. Anderson found her family's behavior "traumatic." She said, "It was quite surprising ... their lack of human interest." Anderson now believes her family had a "dark side" and that her move to Minnesota brought it out in them. She has alleged in court that her mother and brother were involved in criminal activity. Anderson cited information she feels supports her allegations. She can't recall any incident of her mother abusing her. However, Anderson claims her lack of memory of her early childhood and her developmental delays in speaking are "objective" indications of such abuse.
Her mother "doesn't have a nice thing to say" about being pregnant with her, Anderson claims. Her mother never taught her about make-up or boys. "That's weird," she said. "I just wrote that off as being conservative." But Anderson now believes her mother's behavior was a way to cover up things about the family. "With how she's behaved in these last eight weeks, it's very clear that she has other priorities in life, and they're not me," she said. The last time she saw her mother was April 24, at a visit in jail. Anderson told her mother, "I know you miss Stephen, and I'm sorry." Her mother expressed "no regret, no remorse, no sadness," Anderson said. "Her face was just like ice." The elderly woman then asked her daughter to sign papers that would sign her financial interests away, Anderson alleges. "I said 'goodbye mom' and I walked out of the visit." Anderson said the visit was one of the few contacts with her family since the Feb. 24 murder.
As she awaits further word on her fate, Anderson is once again in the medical ward at Maguire Correctional Facility, where she had earlier been placed while on a hunger strike. Anderson is now eating, but Sheriff's Office spokesperson Bronwyn Hogan said the move is precautionary, "just to verify that her health is acceptable up to standard," Hogan said. Anderson claims she was placed in medical via her request -- she had originally asked for solitary confinement so she could begin the process of letting her old life die. "I really appreciate the wonderful life Stephen and I had," she said. Americans once had a legal and social support system "that really made the American dream possible. I really benefited from that. And my son -- although his life was short -- also benefited greatly from that. I was dedicated to passing that American dream on to him." Times have changed, according to Anderson. "Our legal and social support system isn't there anymore."
Anderson said she felt she had no place to turn. For women who think their children are being abused there is little protection under the law, she said. "The court system is making it very easy for everybody [accused of crime] to hide." Anderson denies any notion that she's incompetent or that she killed her son out of insanity, though it has been suggested many times. Anderson claims Superior Court Judge Judith Whitmer admitted as much during a closed hearing April 29. Anderson said the judge told her, "It's obvious that you're insane because your crime is insane." Anderson believes such circular reasoning is faulty. "If you look at what happened to decide what's possible, you'll always perpetuate the status quo," she said. Her crime is "an extreme case" of a mother kidnapping her son to protect him, according to Anderson. "I don't want any other mothers to be in this same situation," she said.
Anderson alleges that authorities never took her fears seriously, instead telling her, "We can't help you. Nobody did anything wrong." As she was fleeing Minnesota the week before her son's death, Anderson said she went to the FBI in Denver on Feb. 21 to tell them of the changes in her life insurance policy -- changes she claims were evidence of a crime by her family. She said the FBI told her, "We're not interested in your family right now." At that time, Anderson said, she was still unclear about the child pornography ring she is now convinced existed. "I thought they just wanted to kill us ... we were both going to be disappeared."
Anderson had brought Stephen to California several days earlier to live with his aunt and uncle in Mountain View. She thought the move could protect the boy. Though police have never released any information substantiating her claims that her she and her son were in danger, Anderson continues to assert differently. Shortly before the murder, Anderson says she had a horrific premonition of Stephen's future: He would be addicted to drugs, prostituted and put on the Internet for child pornography. "That morning that I killed him, my ex-husband told me I was right." Anderson said. But Frank Burns didn't actually tell her so, Anderson admitted. As the divorced couple discussed Stephen's future, Anderson explained her premonition to Stephen's father. "He said, 'I have the bus tickets back to Minnesota,'" Anderson remembered. Anderson interpreted that to mean her fears were confirmed.
Anderson returned to California Feb. 23. She arrived at the Burns home Sunday morning after spending the night in a local hotel. The Burns family wasn't expecting her that morning, Anderson admits. After the family's conversation that morning, the members dispersed. "They left us alone," Anderson remembers. In a back room, Anderson sat beside Stephen as he talked on the phone "being distracted." "I was sitting there looking at him. My whole thought process was 'Am I brave enough or not? Can I let him be tortured or can I do such a horrible thing?'" Anderson said she felt she couldn't wait. "This was the moment of decision."
She stabbed Stephen repeatedly all over his body, primarily in his chest and torso. "He was conscious for about 10 seconds" Anderson said. "He said 'mom.' And I said Stephen, I love you very, very much."