A Nova Scotia woman has been sentenced to two years in prison for nearly starving her adopted daughter to death.

Susan MacDonnell of Dartmouth walked into a Halifax courtroom with her husband by her side, but she left the courthouse in a sheriff’s van.

Her lawyer declined to comment on the sentence.

MacDonnell, 44, pleaded guilty to failing to provide the necessities of life and aggravated assault after her one-year-old daughter was admitted to the IWK Health Centre in March 2010.

The girl was suffering from malnutrition and dehydration and MacDonnell admitted to watering down her formula and tampering with her feeding tube at the hospital.   

Today, a Nova Scotia Supreme Court judge said there was no doubt in his mind that MacDonnell’s actions were a product of her mental illness and sentenced her to two years in prison.

“I don’t think, from the Crown’s perspective and from the public’s perspective, that denunciation and deterrence of such horrific behavior against a child was adequately reflected in that sentence,” said Crown prosecutor Catherine Cogswell.

The Crown argued a psychiatrist diagnosed MacDonnell with a personality disorder, rather than with a major mental illness.

But, in his decision, Judge Kevin Coady said he believed MacDonnell’s actions were the product of her condition.

“Ms. MacDonnell’s mental health does not relieve her of all responsibility for the harm suffered by Rachel, but it would be wrong to see her in the same way we view conventional abusers of children, such as baby-shakers and the like,” he said.

MacDonnell fostered about 30 children over a period of 13 years and adopted several of them. The court heard she and her husband were viewed by community services as an exceptional set of parents.

“I don’t think anyone is suggesting that you should have compassion for an offender, but flip it on its coin, she used her facade of being a super mom to almost kill a child,” said Cogswell.

Earlier this week, MacDonnell apologized for her actions in court.

“I would never wish to hurt a child and the horror that I feel about that should remain part of how I walk the rest of my life,” she said.

She will remain on probation for three years following her stint in prison.

With files from CTV Atlantic's Jacqueline Foster