PALMYRA — A Scottsville woman charged with the death of her daughter will serve 16 years in prison for her crimes, which a judge characterized as “unjustifiable and inhumane.”
Suzanne Ruth Mirsky, 50, was arrested by Fluvanna County sheriff’s officials in February and initially was charged with second-degree murder in the 2018 death of Kayla Mirsky, her 19-year-old daughter.
In June, Mirsky pleaded guilty to a lesser charge of involuntary manslaughter and two counts of felony child abuse. Two counts of animal cruelty related to June 2019 incidents and two counts of felony child abuse were dropped.
Friday, Mirsky sat clad in an orange Central Virginia Regional Jail jumpsuit, tapping her right foot and occasionally muttering to herself and her attorney as the commonwealth laid out its evidence against her. Her family sat in the court gallery, arms crossed with masked gazes that betrayed little emotion.
The charges against Mirsky were the result of a 13-month investigation, according to Fluvanna Commonwealth’s Attorney Jeff Haislip, and revealed years of violent abuse against her children.
Two of Mirsky’s underage children were called to testify, detailing the harm their mother inflicted on them and their older sister Kayla.
According to Mirsky’s 17-year-old son, on the night Kayla died, their mother had forced the 19-year-old, who was autistic, to stand in the corner for hours. This was a common punishment, he said — so common that Kayla had learned to sleep standing up.
However, on this particular night, when Kayla started to fall asleep, she was unable to continue standing and Mirsky forced the teen to stand outside in the cold to “wake her up.”
“It was the kind of cold that as soon as you were outside, your first instinct was to go inside,” the 17-year-old said. “It was very, very cold.”
The next morning, he said he was awoken by Mirsky, who had found Kayla unresponsive by the door outside. After he and Mirsky attempted to revive Kayla with blankets and warm water, he said Mirsky asked him and his sisters to clean the dog cages before she called the authorities.
Mirsky’s 14-year-old daughter also testified, pointing to the physical abuse her mother inflicted on her and her siblings. Their mother would hit them, burn them with a stun gun and step on their stomachs so they could not breathe, the daughter said.
Though all the children were physically abused, the worst abuse was directed at Kayla, the 14-year-old testified.
“She was very brutal and very aggressive toward Kayla,” she said. “She acted differently toward her — told her that she hated her and wanted her to die.”
The sole defense witness called was Barbara Blair, Mirsky’s therapist prior to her arrest. According to Blair’s testimony, Mirsky suffered from borderline personality disorder, which is characterized by emotional instability, feelings of worthlessness, insecurity, impulsivity and impaired social relationships, among other things.
Unfortunately, Blair said there is no pharmaceutical treatment for BPD and the best hope for a patient is therapy and learning to control their emotional responses.
Given the brutal nature of the crimes against Mirsky’s children, Haislip asked the court for a 20-year sentence — the maximum allowed under the sentencing guidelines. Involuntary manslaughter was too light a charge Haislip said, but, despite her actions, the commonwealth could not prove she intended to kill her daughter.
In good conscience, Haislip said he could ask for no less than the maximum.
“For kids, one of the most important people in their life is their mother, and one of the most important places is their home,” he said. “But for these kids, their mother was their tormenter and she robbed them of the feeling of safety a home is supposed to have.”
Mirsky’s attorney pointed to her diagnosis, arguing that though her mental illness does not excuse her behavior, it did explain it. He requested a sentence of four years, with the latter two years being on home electronic monitoring due to her poor health.
Before sentencing Mirsky, Judge Richard E. Moore allowed the defendant to read a letter she had written to the court. Through tears and pained sobs, Mirsky said she accepted the plea agreement so that her children would not have to testify. The rest of the lengthy letter largely detailed her travails and personal tragedies since 2015 and described Kayla as having “passed away.”
After Mirsky had pleaded her case, Moore bestowed the court’s sentence: 10 years for involuntary manslaughter and five years for each child abuse charge. Four years from each child abuse charge will run concurrently, Moore said, for a total active sentence of 16 years.
The case was “beyond tragic,” Moore said, as an apparently stunned Mirsky gasped at the sentence.
“It doesn’t matter. I’ll be 70 years old. I’ll die in prison,” she said repeatedly, occasionally interrupting Moore.
Moore said the crime was among the worst he had ever seen and that he felt the sentence was justified. Throughout Mirsky’s letter, Moore said he did not hear her once express remorse for her actions or take responsibility for the death of her daughter.
“I don’t know how you can conceive of a universe where your behavior was acceptable, but you’ll have the next 15 years or so to figure that out,” he said.