The Suicide of LeAnn Leutner

She left behind a baby boy, an estranged lover, and a custody case that would challenge progressive New York

Sporn met Leutner at a bar in March of 2010. She was wearing a business suit, sipping Lambrusco while she marked up a proxy statement. He sat down next to her. "You really shouldn't be doing your homework at the bar," he said.

The next night they went on their first date, to a jazz concert at Lincoln Center. He found her pretty, well read, and clever. She reached out and touched his thigh. "Are you real?" she asked.

For their fifth date, they flew to Africa. They tracked black rhinos in Namibia, saw giraffes, leopards, and elephants. At night, they curled up inside their tent and listened to the lions roar.

LeAnn Leutner
LeAnn Leutner
Jonathan Sporn, LeAnn Leutner, 
and baby Lincoln
Jonathan Sporn, LeAnn Leutner, and baby Lincoln

By December, Leutner had moved into Sporn's apartment on Riverside Drive in Manhattan. He called her "dollzy." She called him "boysee." They argued over the TV remote and split the chores. He managed to coax her from a vegan to a vegetarian diet. Once, he claims, she even agreed to try a steak.

During their first year together, they went to Italy. She took him home to Illinois to meet her parents and attend her high school and college reunions. With Brennan, now 12, in tow, they traveled to Disney World and took a fishing trip to Maine.

"In Sporn, LeAnn found someone who loved her, liked her, and who could put up with her mishigas," Flacks says.

Soon, the couple was talking about raising a family.

Leutner wanted two more children. She was approaching 40 and felt anxious about her age, so the couple started trying to conceive before they'd been dating a year. After a few unsuccessful months, hey turned to in vitro fertilization.

"We were very excited," Sporn would later write in court papers. "There was no one else who I would have wanted to start a family with and LeAnn felt the same way."

The doctor prescribed Leutner hormone injections to encourage her body to release more eggs. The process was "intense" and "emotional," Sporn wrote. Month after month, the doctor delivered bad news. Leutner grew more and more anxious. Time was her enemy. "LeAnn felt the weight of the world on her shoulders," Sporn wrote.

A number of studies indicate that rates of depression are significantly higher among infertile couples than those who can naturally conceive. The process of in vitro fertilization itself exacerbates psychological distress—especially if the embryos fail to take. In a 2012 study at Spalding University in Louisville, Kentucky, researchers found women who use assisted reproductive technology can develop post-traumatic stress disorder. Though her symptoms were well managed before she tried to get pregnant, Leutner's mental health risks were magnified.

Most doctors agree that taking antidepressants doesn't negatively affect a woman's fertility. Though the topic is controversial, a number of recent studies also show that, even during pregnancy, the drugs are relatively safe. Leutner stopped taking her Prozac anyway. Sporn begged her not to. At least wait until you get pregnant, he pleaded. She did not listen.

Frustrated and losing hope, Leutner tearfully considered using an egg donor. Sporn reassured her. He loved her so much, he told her; he wanted the baby to be biologically just like her. The couple picked out an anonymous sperm donor. Sporn insisted on using a fellow Jew. They tried a "split cycle," where the doctor mixed Sporn's sperm with the donor sperm. When that, too, failed, Leutner and Sporn tried again using only the donor sperm. The doctor implanted two embryos. The pregnancy test came back positive. They were going to have twins.

The two began nesting, picking out furniture for the nursery and shopping for tiny hats and shoes. Sporn put headphones on Leutner's swelling belly and played music for the babies. They hired a nanny and started talking about names. It should have been a happy time, but Leutner's mental health was quickly deteriorating.

A few weeks after the positive pregnancy test, Leutner started to bleed: She lost one of the babies. If only she had stayed in bed, she obsessed, it never would have happened. When the doctor told her the surviving child was a boy, she was disconsolate. They must immediately try for a girl, she told Sporn. She was anxious, compulsive, eating less and less. Sporn worried she was falling back into disordered behavior. He pushed her to see a psychiatrist.

The baby was born July 16, 2012. The couple named him Lincoln, after the country's 16th president. Sporn slipped into a doting parental daze almost as soon as he cut the squalling infant's umbilical cord. Lincoln was so alert and responsive. Already, Sporn told the pediatrician, the baby must be exhibiting signs of superior intelligence. The doctor indulged him. "I've been doing this 25 years and most parents think their baby is special," he says the doctor told him. "But this baby does seem special."

To announce the boy's birth, Leutner sent out an e-mail blast giving his name as "Lincoln Edward Amory Leutner-Sporn." But on the birth certificate, she left the line next to "father" blank.

"Enrolled Democrat, I trust?" Flacks joked when Leutner sent the baby's first photo.

"Oui, bien sûr!" Leutner replied. Yes, of course.

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