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 loved to take the baby for walks in his stroller. When he attended his philosophy and tennis clubs, he took Lincoln along. Leutner showed the infant off at Community Free Democrat meetings. Everyone fawned over him. "She was so happy when she was with her sons," club member Bernadette Evangelist recalls. "She just glowed."

Behind the smile, though, Leutner was suffering. When Lincoln was six weeks old, she stopped breastfeeding and started another in vitro cycle. Some days, says nanny Arleen Gonzalez, she was so exhausted that getting out of bed was too much."She was not the same woman who hired me," Gonzalez says.

Despite her declining health, Leutner returned to work in the middle of November. Around Thanksgiving, she tried to kill herself by jumping from a window. She was taken by ambulance to the hospital, where she spent 10 days in treatment.

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

Leutner had been home three days when Gonzalez arrived and found Lincoln alone. Just minutes before, Sporn had left Leutner lounging in bed. "Are you feeling up to going to work today?" he'd asked her. She said she thought that maybe she was. Then Sporn had headed downstairs to work out at the apartment building's gym.

"I could hear the baby crying from the elevator,' Gonzalez says. "I knew right away that something was wrong."

Sporn ran up the stairs. He found Leutner in the stairwell, climbing over the railing. He grabbed her arm just before she slipped out of reach. She dangled, nothing between her and a 19-story fall but his grip. He pulled her to safety, but she fought him. He restrained her until police arrived.

Together, they rode in the ambulance to the hospital. She seemed calm. "I have to get to work," she told Sporn. "I am working on some research for a client."

At the hospital, she refused to allow the staff to speak to her psychiatrist. She was distant. Her body withered. Her cheeks became gaunt, her eyes sunken.

Sporn and Leutner had been planning to take a scouting trip to Burma over Christmas. He considered canceling, but he was emotionally exhausted. "It was tearing me apart that I couldn't fix her," he says. "I convinced myself that she just needed time." He called the psychiatric ward and gave the doctors his professional opinion: Leutner was a danger to herself. Then he left her in the hospital. Lincoln, then five months old, he left with Gonzalez.

The doctors planned to keep Leutner three weeks, but on December 17, with the help of friend Myra DiDonato, Leutner checked out of the psychiatric unit and retrieved Lincoln. Convinced that Leutner did not need to be in the hospital, DiDonato told authorities that she "looked great" and that she had just been "going through a lot" with her boyfriend, according to government records.

Leutner sent the nanny a text message Dec. 28 to inform her that she had rented a second apartment because she "wanted more space for the baby." Could Gonzalez work at the new address as well? When Sporn returned from Burma the next day, Leutner was packing up some of her things. Two days later, she left Lincoln with DiDonato, went to the apartment she had rented, and flung herself 14 stories to her death.

The state took Lincoln into custody.

No one notified Sporn. When he couldn't get in touch with Leutner, he called her sister, Susan Sylvester, in a panic. Sylvester's husband took a message. They did not return his call. He learned of Leutner's death from child protective services.

Eleven days after Leutner died, The Community Free Democrats Club put together a memorial service at Fordham University. When the invitations went out, a club leader took Sporn aside and told him he wasn't welcome. Because Leutner had moved out of Sporn's house before her death, many felt she was trying to get away from him.

Rumors flew. Did Sporn go to Burma for a romantic vacation with his ex-wife? Was he was still married? Was he was using Leutner to have a baby because he and his wife couldn't get pregnant? "People are acting like Sporn murdered her," Flacks says.

Flacks, though, had a different theory. "LeAnn did not want to be leashed to anyone. She told me that repeatedly," he says. "She and Sporn had been arguing over living arrangements. She wanted a bigger apartment, and he didn't want to move. So she got a bigger apartment."

On his way to the memorial, Sporn called several friends and asked them to meet him at the fountain in front of Lincoln Center; he didn't want to walk in alone.

The lineup of speakers included Congressman Jerry Nadler and Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer. Nadler noted that the United States fails to give priority to mental illness. He was the only speaker to even allude to the sickness Leutner successfully hid for so long.

"Nobody said what happened," says Evangelist. "To me it was insulting because we were there because we cared about her. Why not talk about it?"

About 220 people, mostly friends Leutner had made while serving as a Democratic district leader, came to pay their respects. While guests shared memories of Leutner in hushed tones, photos of her life flashed across a screen behind the podium. There was Leutner in Italy and Hawaii. There she was in pearls and heels at political fundraisers, at the ocean, suited up for a scuba diving expedition, and at the sand dunes, wearing hiking boots, long hair blowing in the wind. In several photos, she cradled Lincoln, beaming proudly.

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