Friday, January 23, 2009

McCuin Autopsy Reveals That He Overdosed on Seroquel

From the Tyler Paper, the man accused of killing and eating his girlfriend, died of an overdose of Seroquel, a medication used to treat schizophrenia, and, more recently approved to treat bipolar disorder. It is classified as a antipsychotic and a mood stabilizer. I have not heard it classified as an antidepressant (with the exception of J.B. Smith's explanation).

Excerpt from the paper:
According to Sheriff J.B. Smith, the report
from Southwest Forensics Laboratory in Dallas
indicates that McCuin died from an overdose
of the antidepressant quetiapine furnerte,
known by its generic name, Seroquel. Smith
said the drug was prescribed to McCuin by a
jail psychiatrist.

“It was used for depression associated with
bipolar disorder and also used for the warning
signs and symptoms of psychotic disorders,”
he said. “He was obviously saving it up and
he overdosed intentionally.”

I fear that this will become more and more a problem as jails reduce their budgets for psychiatric care and as DSHS reduces its budget (right now proposed to be reduced $11 million). Unfortunately, many jails are going to medication formularies that do not permit new generation medications. Although McCuin overdosed on a new gen medication, Seroquel, most are considered safer than the older medications.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Devoe found mentally incompetent for trial

Devoe found mentally incompetent for trial
Prosecutor expects suspect in killing of six to recover in mental hospital and later stand trial.
By Patrick George


Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Paul Devoe, accused of killing five people in Texas and a woman in Pennsylvania in 2007, has been found mentally incompetent to stand trial.

Two doctors, one hired by the prosecution and another by the defense, declared Devoe incompetent to assist in his defense. The order was signed by Judge Brenda Kennedy on Dec. 22, Travis County Assistant District Attorney Dayna Blazey said Monday. She said that doctors expect Devoe to recover from his current state with care and medication and that she expects him to eventually stand trial.

Devoe, 45, is accused of killing a Marble Falls bartender, four people in a Jonestown house and a woman in Pennsylvania during August 2007 before being arrested in Shirley, N.Y.

"This has nothing to do with his state when he committed the offense," Blazey said. "All it has to do with is right now; he is unable to understand the charges against him or unable to cooperate with his attorneys."

Devoe's mental condition deteriorated while he was in custody, Blazey said. The state's psychiatric report states that he is unable to communicate with his lawyers, she said. He will be sent to Vernon State Hospital, a maximum security psychiatric facility in North Texas, until he is able to stand trial again, Blazey said. Travis County records indicate Devoe is in custody at the county correctional center in Del Valle.

Prosecutors said they were not aware of why the December decision was not disclosed until Monday.

Blazey said Devoe's trial was tentatively scheduled to begin in March. She expects him to recover in about two or three months, after which he would go to trial and prosecutors would seek the death penalty.

"We believe the evidence supports a conviction for capital murder," Blazey said.

One of Devoe's attorneys, Tom Weber, declined to comment on the decision.

Jonathon Griffith, the son of murder victim Paula Griffith, 46, and brother of victim Haylie Marie Faulkner, 15, said he was not pleased with the declaration of incompetence.

"I think he's trying to game the system," Griffith said. "I personally think he's doing this on purpose. I'm sure he's been given medications, and he's not taking them."

Griffith said he hopes Devoe will become lucid and stand trial "sooner rather than later."

Kennedy ruled in July that most of the potentially incriminating statements that Devoe made will be admissible at trial. Devoe's lawyers sought to suppress a series of statements that witnesses say he made about the crimes, including telling a cellmate, "I killed six people," and telling his sister that he shot people. According to court testimony, he also asked a Suffolk County, N.Y., police officer, "Do you know how many bodies they found?"

In 2007, Devoe told the Long Island newspaper Newsday that he doesn't remember shooting five of the six victims and that he "never meant to hurt anybody in any shape or form."

But while in jail in Suffolk County, he said he was haunted by their deaths.

"All I hear is screams," Devoe told the paper.; 445-3851

Monday, January 12, 2009

Judge hopes Houston mental health court will cut arrests

By Bill Murphy in the Houston Chronicle:

State District Judge Jan Krocker vows to put public safety first and says she's unafraid to mete out tough sentences. But the Republican doesn't take a lock-'em-up-and-throw-away-the-key approach when it comes to handling cases of those with mental illnesses.

"Success in these cases is relative," she said in her chambers last week. "If you have someone who was arrested 25 times for loitering and trespassing in a year and that person gets on medication and arrests drop to five times a year, that's a success."

Krocker, who has been on the bench since 1995, will begin to handle cases of the mentally ill full time in the coming months.

Harris County's criminal district judges voted Wednesday to devote Krocker's court, the 184th, to felony cases of defendants diagnosed with schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and severe depression.

The county is following the lead of scores of other counties across the United States that have created mental health courts with the hope of decreasing the number of mentally ill coming through the criminal justice system.

Such courts can save money by diverting the mentally ill from jail into treatment. Local officials and advocates for the mentally ill warn, however, that one court will have little effect if more treatment services for the mentally ill are not provided in the community.

"A mental health court is a piece of a large puzzle, many of which remain missing. Those include providing housing for this group and case management," said David Buck, president of Healthcare for the Homeless-Houston.

Since 1997, when the nation's first mental health courts were created in Indianapolis, Ind., and Broward County, Fla., more than 150 such courts have begun operating across the country.

Two-fold purpose

Their aim typically has been to provide more humane, effective treatment for the mentally ill and to reduce jail and court costs, said Allison Redlich, a researcher who is studying the effectiveness of mental health courts at Policy Research Associates, which advocates for better treatment of the mentally ill.

Krocker and other state district judges have been pressing for the creation of a mental health court here for several years as the number of mentally ill defendants has swelled. On a given day, nearly 20 percent of the 11,000 inmates at the Harris County Jail receive medications for mental health conditions.

Some mentally ill are arrested so many times, often for minor offenses such as trespassing, that county jail officials have dubbed them "frequent fliers."

With the creation of her court, "I'm hoping some of them will be flying less frequently," Krocker said.

Just as separate courts have been created to address problems such as domestic abuse and drug addiction that weren't always being handled well in regular courts, mental health courts allow judges to gain expertise in handling cases involving schizophrenics and those with other mental disorders, Redlich said.

Better care behind bars

In Harris County and elsewhere, those in need of treatment often receive better mental health care when they are in jail rather than out, Krocker said.

The county and state do not provide enough resources to offer case managers and therapists for all mentally ill inmates when they are released, said Ethel Perry, manager of a local program for mentally ill people on probation. The program -- New Specialized Team of Advocates and Rehabilitation Therapists, or New START -- is run by the county Mental Health and Mental Retardation Authority.

New START receives state funding -- $3 million this year -- to run a program for 300 former inmates. Many were on the verge of having their probation revoked when they entered the program, Perry said.

Krocker envisions working closely with counselors, psychiatrists and the staff of New START.

Perry said praise from a high-ranking official such as a judge can mean a lot to a group of people who often feel like outcasts.

"We are not coddling anybody," said Judge Mark Ellis, who over the past two years has been running one of the two state district courts in Harris County that have been partly devoted to handling cases of mentally ill people on probation. "We are trying to get them to the point that they are on medication and can think for themselves, take some control of their lives, get involved with their kids."

Revocations differ

In 2006 and 2007, the county studied whether mentally ill people on probation who were assigned to the two courts avoided getting into trouble and returning to jail.

Most of these people were in the New START program, and 4 percent had their probation revoked, Ellis said.

During the same period, 30 percent of the mentally ill not in the program had their probation revoked.

Studies of mental health courts in the U.S. have concluded that they reduce recidivism among the mentally ill, the number of violent crimes committed by them and the number of days they spend in jail, Redlich said.

Since becoming better informed about mental illness, Ellis said he no longer thinks the mentally ill invariably should be treated the same as people who have full control of their faculties and recognize right from wrong.

"Mental illness is an illness," he said. "They don't choose to be bipolar or schizophrenic."

Brought to you by the

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Dispelling Myths About Information Sharing Between the Mental Health and Criminal Justice Systems

From GAINS Center: Fact Sheet on HIPAA and the Criminal Justice System.

Texas Inmate Families Association

Few events in life are more devastating than having a member of one’s family, or a close friend, incarcerated. Texas Inmate Families Association (TIFA) members have united to support families affected by having a loved one in the Texas criminal justice system and to improve the conditions and life chances of Texas inmates.

They have chapters in the following cities:
Austin, Beaumont, Conroe, Corpus Christi, Ft. Worth, Lubbock, Plano, Round Rock, San Antonio, SW Dallas County, and Tyler.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out

I think we've all heard the story about the death row inmate plucking out his eyeball and eating it. Here are some more details from an earlier post from Prevention Not Punishment:

Here's an update from the Associated Press regarding two Texas cases that involve issues of severe mental illness ("2 condemned killers in Texas lose appeals," October 8, 2008):

"A North Texas auto mechanic whose original death sentence for the 1987 murders of a man and a 4-month-old child was overturned on appeal had his 2nd death sentence upheld Wednesday by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals.

In 1 of 2 death row cases rejected by the state's highest criminal appeals court, lawyers for inmate James Eugene Bigby contended there were 15 errors at his 2nd punishment trial in Tarrant County where jurors in September 2006 deliberated about 4 hours before handing down another death sentence.

In a 2nd case, the Austin-based appeals court upheld the conviction and death sentence of a Grayson County man accused of killing his wife, their son and her daughter. Andre Thomas, now 25, confessed to fatally stabbing all three in their chests in March 2004 and ripping out their hearts.

Neither Thomas nor Bigby has an execution date.

Bigby, now 43, had been convicted and condemned in 1991 for shooting MikeTrekell, who was cooking steaks for himself and Bigby, and drowning Trekell's 4-month-old son, Jayson, in a bathroom sink on Christmas Eve. He confessed to the slayings but pleaded innocent by reason of insanity.

The 2 were among four people killed during a seven-hour spree by Bigby in Fort Worth and Arlington.
The 1st jury convicted Bigby of capital murder just hours after he grabbed a loaded gun from a drawer in state District Judge Don Leonard's bench, charged into Leonard's chambers and pointed the gun at him. The judge, a prosecutor and a bailiff eventually wrestled the gun away from Bigby.

Defense witnesses had testified that Bigby was a paranoid schizophrenic, but the jury rejected Bigby's insanity defense. The former Kennedale automechanic appealed.

In 2005, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld Bigby's conviction but overturned his sentence, saying it violated a 1989 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that juries should consider mitigating factors, such as mental illness, when deciding whether a defendant should die. The court said paranoid schizophrenia is a severe mental illness, and that Bigby had proven he had it at the time of the slayings.

Bigby's lawyers didn't dispute his actions but noted he'd been treated three times for mental disorders before the killings. They argued he shouldn't be executed because his paranoid schizophrenia and frustrations about a workers' compensation claim led to the killing spree. Prosecutors said drug use and his aggressive personality led to the killings.

In the latest appeal, Bigby challenged selection of some of the jurors, argued the indictment and jury instructions were faulty, again questioned the legality of mitigating evidence issues and the legality of the drugs used for lethal injection.

In Thomas' case, the maintenance man and laborer contended in his appeal that his trial court judge erroneously allowed into evidence video and audio tapes of his statements to police where he told about killing his estranged wife, Laura Christine Boren, their 4-year-old son, Andre Lee, and the woman's 13-month-old daughter, Leyha Marie Hughes.

He was convicted specifically of the infant's death.

Thomas, from Texoma, walked into the Sherman Police Department and told a dispatcher he had just murdered the three and had stabbed himself in the chest. He was taken to a hospital and agreed to speak with officers there. He also spoke later with detectives at the police department.

A judge said he understood rights and warnings that were explained to him.

Defense lawyers argued he suffered from mental illness and alcohol and drug abuse.

The appeals court, in upholding the conviction, ruled Thomas knowingly and intelligently waived his rights. The court also rejected arguments contesting jury selection and challenging introduction of crime scene photos and autopsy results of the victims other than the infant.

Other arguments turned down by the appeals court involved prosecution testimony about Thomas' sanity, that the court should have ruled on his competency before the trial, that his defense lawyers were incompetent and that the jury engaged in misconduct because following their verdicts they told the judge and lawyers they'd wanted to hear true remorse from Thomas.

In his statement to police, Thomas told how he put his victims' hearts in his pocket and left their apartment, took them home, put them in a plastic bag and threw them in the trash."
This article doesn't mention that Thomas gouged out his own eyeball while in a cell at the Grayson County jail, where he was awaiting trial. He was then declared incompetent to stand trial and sent to a mental hospital, but was released from care several months later. Doctors claimed that his condition had improved to the point that he would be able to understand the charges against him and help with his own defense.

Thomas' attorneys argued that he committed his crimes while suffering from severe, religious-based delusions about his wife. He was said to have quoted a Bible verse when he gouged out his eye: "And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into hell.'' (Mark 9:47)

1st Private Criminal Defender Program in Texas to Commence in Lubbock

First Private Criminal Defender Program in Texas to Commence

Texas Lawyer
January 08, 2009

A first-of-its-kind program in Texas is scheduled to open Jan. 15 in Lubbock, providing specially trained private practitioners to represent indigent criminal defendants who are mentally ill or retarded.

Philip Wischkaemper , a Lubbock Criminal Defense Lawyers Association (LCDLA) member who helped develop the program, says, "It's the first private defender service in the state."

Private attorneys appointed by the director of the Lubbock Special Needs Defenders' Office, a nonprofit corporation formed by the LCDLA in October, will represent the indigent clients, says Lubbock solo Ted Hogan, a member of the corporation's board of directors.

On Dec. 22, the Lubbock County Commissioners Court approved a contract with the corporation to run the program. Precinct 4 Commissioner Patti Jones says the commissioners see the program as a way to ensure that jailed indigents with mental health issues receive legal assistance within 24 hours after they are arrested, so they can receive the services they need. "That's been a void in the system," Jones says.

On June 18, the Texas Task Force on Indigent Defense awarded a state-funded four-year grant totaling $419,360 to Lubbock County to set up the program.

David Slayton, Lubbock County's director of court administration, says the amount of state funding for the program will decrease in increments over the first four years of operations as the amount the county provides increases. In the fifth year, the county will assume full responsibility for funding the program, Slayton says.

Hogan says the county will pay lawyers who represent mentally impaired clients, but the Special Needs Defenders' Office director will review the bills that the attorneys submit for payment.

Wischkaemper, the capital assistance attorney for the Texas Criminal Defense Lawyers Association , says a peer review committee will determine which attorney applicants qualify for appointments.

Attorneys seeking appointments through the new program must complete a minimum of 12 hours of continuing legal education on mental health issues in addition to CLE hours in criminal law, Wischkaemper says

Friday, January 9, 2009

Texas Criminal Procedure and the Offender with Mental Illness

Published by NAMI Texas. This manual provides an explaination for defendants and their families of the Code of Criminal Procedure, along with editorials by NAMI Texas.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Judicial Options: When Defendants are Incompetent to Stand Trial

Several Options for Judges when Defendants are Incompetent to Stand Trial.

Judicial Options: Personal Bond Statutes and Defendants with Mental Illness and Mental Retardation

Are judges aware of the compulsory MH PR Bond?

Mental Illness, Your Client, and The Criminal Law

A handbook for attorneys with clients with mental illness.

Finding Help When You're In Trouble With the Law

Publication from Texas Appleseed Organization for those with mental illness caught up in the criminal justice system.

Avoiding Jail Pays Off

Cheaper to treat than incarcerate!

Comparison of Texas Budget Proposals to Manage Growth of the Prison Population & Increase Public Safety

Elements of Proposed Diversion/Treatment Plans
Organized by Key Events in the Criminal Justice System
from the Council of State Governments

Texas Correctional Office on Offenders with Medical and Mental Impairments

TCOOMMI Biennial Report.

A Day in the Life as a Mental Health Professional in the Jail

Go to this website and click on the audio of "A Danger to Self or Others." There are some other good audio's to listen to if you have the time.

Skip Treatment, Go Straight to Jail

Mental health needs must be addressed

By Michael Morris
The Facts

Published January 4, 2009

The unavoidable fact in Brazoria County is a lot of mental health patients are going to wind up in jail instead of a treatment program, which is what they really need.

There’s something terribly wrong with that picture, and it’s going to be up to residents of Brazoria County to change it. This county needs more places where patients on long waiting lists for mental health care can go for treatment. It needs to come up with a way to buy needed medication, rather than pay for keeping a mental health patient in jail.

If the assessment in those first two paragraphs seems familiar, it is because we first wrote it back in August 2003. We printed similar statements in November of that year, then again in February and November 2006.

In all that time, however, mental health services, especially for the indigent, have remained all but nonexistent in Brazoria County. Now, the lifeline those would-be patients needed has been taken away as well.

Brazoria County still has no in-patient services for mental health patients. While those with mental illnesses in the past could be sent to the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston, Hurricane Ike stripped that facility of its in-patient mental health care capabilities.

It is time the state and county finally get serious about the mental health problem, doing something more than pointing out its existence and saying they can’t do anything about it.

Even outpatient services are far short of necessary levels. Lake Jackson therapist Barbara Bernzen, who is helping lead an effort to bring better mental health care to the area, said Brazoria County is at just 10 percent of the national average of mental health professionals per capita. There are resources in Harris County, of course, but those are useful only if a person has the means to get there — and has been diagnosed.

Instead, as was the case when we addressed the subject almost six years ago, most likely the person first confronting someone with a mental health problem will be wearing a badge.

The Brazoria County Sheriff’s Office answered 1,903 calls requiring mental health deputy evaluation in 2007, with 204 cases of people being apprehended or forced into some kind of mental care. While the sheriff’s office makes every effort to properly deal with mental health issues — it now has specially trained deputies available around the clock — their use should be a last resort, not a first.

“By the time they’re arrested, they’re either a threat to themselves or someone else,” said Carie Fletcher, Gulf Coast Community Coalition/Bay Area Council on Drugs and Alcohol coordinator. “If there were a facility, they may be able to access services before then.”

A group of area mental health professionals is stepping up to call greater attention to the need and petition the Legislature to at least restore the region’s previous capacity. We hope, despite the economic downturn possibly cutting into the state budget, the calls for better mental health care do not go unheeded.

It is far more expensive to care for a mentally ill person if they are in a jail cell, and more should be done to prevent that from being the most common course of action in Texas. The persistence of the problem in Brazoria County should be remedied, and we pray it will not take another hurricane to prompt those who should have acted long ago to do so.

This editorial was written by Michael Morris, assistant managing editor of The Facts.

Texas Commission on Jail Standards - Incarceration Rate Report

Smith County's Incarceration is 4.34, 9th in the state (22nd in the state ranked by population); Gregg County is 5th (30th by population). I am curious if they are counting the inmates that Gregg County houses from other counties.

Interim Report to the 81st Legislature from the Senate Committee on Criminal Justice

No new prisons!

Mental Health Courts: A Primer for Policymakers and Practitioners

Provides a general overview of this program model and discusses the emergence of mental health courts, their objectives and procedures, how they differ from drug courts, and a number of other key issues.

Outpatient Competency Restoration Pilots

The Outpatient Competency Restoration (OCR) pilots were launched by Department of State Health Services (DSHS) earlier this year in response to Senate Bill 867, 80th Legislature which amended Article 46B, Code of Criminal Procedure, in many respects to explicitly allow for outpatient competency restoration of defendants who have been determined by the court not to be a danger to others (see CCP, Art. 46B.072(a) ). Funding was awarded for pilot sites for OCR in selected areas where the Mental Health Authority and local judiciary have partriered together for this unique concept in competency restoration. OCR programming and curricula were modeled after successful OCR programs in other states.