среда, 5 ноября 2008 г.

Psychiatrist says killer should go to group home in Sacramento

Ron Toppila stabbed his mother 52 times with a box cutter and broke her larynx, ribs and jaw while killing her four years ago. Now the state mental hospital where he is confined wants to release him to a board-and-care home in Sacramento.

In a rare court proceeding, a psychiatrist from Napa State Hospital testified that Toppila, who was convicted of first-degree murder but found not guilty by reason of insanity, has since regained his mental health and should be returned to the community.

"I know him pretty well," Dr. Nathan Thuma said in an interview after testifying for three hours Monday in Sacramento Superior Court. "I think he's safe."

Toppila, 68, was arrested on Oct. 7, 2004, at the scene of the killing of his mother, Hilma Tone, 86, in her apartment on South Land Park Drive. He was convicted in May 2006, but the jury's concurrence with his insanity plea moved Toppila's case from the realm of prison punishment to hospital treatment.

His lawyer, Robert J. Saria, said it was the hospital and not the defendant that pushed to get the case returned to court. Officials said it's the first such hearing on a Sacramento homicide case in more than five years.

"He has not said, 'I want to be released,' " Saria said in an interview. "He obviously wants to be near his family in the least restrictive environment possible, but this is a recommendation from the hospital. This is what they believe is in his best interests."

Thuma said that if Judge Kevin J. McCormick agrees with the hospital's plan to release Toppila, the defendant would be placed in an unspecified group home in the Sacramento area. Thuma said, "I'm not sure" if it would be locked and secure, or what kind of security personnel there would be on staff, if any.

"I've never been in one of those places," Thuma said in the interview.

He said Napa State Hospital moved to have Toppila returned to Sacramento because "it's the state law."

"There's no provision that people be hospitalized longer than they need to be," Thuma said. "It's not a punitive sentence. It's a different legal system altogether. If someone has regained their sanity and is accepted by ConRep (the statewide community Conditional Release Program that operates under court supervision), they should be released."

A ConRep official is expected to testify in the hearing that will run into next week. McCormick will then take the matter under submission.

Thuma testified that he and other physicians at Napa diagnosed Toppila with "major depression with psychotic features, in remission." He said Toppila would be fine as long as he takes his daily doses of anti-depressant and anti-psychotic medications.

The psychiatrist suggested that Toppila's homicidal outburst was a one-shot deal, directed at his mother, and "he can't kill her again."

Deputy District Attorney Dawn Bladet ripped Thuma for offering his diagnosis on Toppila last February after having known the man for barely a month. She suggested that Toppila, a licensed clinical social worker at the time of his arrest, had gamed the psychiatrist into a lightweight diagnosis.

Bladet also questioned Thuma on what he knew about Toppila's behavior after his arrest when, she said, he was "combative," "confused," "naked in his cell," and when he "lashed out at guards" in the jail.

She pounded the doctor on his alleged lack of concern for the auditory hallucinations reported by Toppila and the defendant's arrest record as a youth that included charges of statutory rape and disturbing the peace.

The prosecutor also blasted Thuma for downplaying past assessments that Toppila suffered from something called "Capgras syndrome," a delusion that a close friend or relative has been replaced by an impostor.

Thuma held his ground, saying "the most important thing is that he's not psychotic now," and that a discussion of Toppila's past symptoms "would not be necessarily fruitful."

"It's a treatment success," Thuma said.

Judge McCormick questioned the psychiatrist on the documentation he used to reach his diagnosis and how he could guarantee the accuracy of his own conclusions.

"How come you're 100 percent right?" McCormick asked.

Judges stripped of mental health detention powers

IRISH judges are to lose the power to send defendants charged with minor offences to the Central Mental Hospital (CMH) for two weeks without hearing any medical evidence.

The power was given to them in a 2006 law, passed when Michael McDowell was justice minister, and has been criticised as "not acceptable in any jurisdiction" by Harry Kennedy, the director of the CMH.

Dundrum's 82-bed forensic-psychiatric facility is vastly over-subscribed as it is the only hospital designated by the 2006 act to take patients from the criminal justice system. Many of its patients have have been convicted of murder or found not guilty by reason of insanity.

Last April, in a letter to the Department of Justice which has been released under the Freedom of Information Act, Kennedy said: "It is not acceptable in any jurisdiction that I know of for the criminal courts to find a person mentally disordered, and commit them to a hospital without medical certification that a mental disorder is present."

The 2006 law provided for the fitness of defendants to stand trial in the district court to be tested, but medical staff say some judges send defendants straight to the CMH without any medical direction.

Kennedy warned the department that if the law wasn't modified, "we will otherwise have a continuation of the present situation where unannounced patients arrive at the hospital with no chance of us arranging an appropriate bed". The CMH would be unable to cope with the number of cases judges were referring to it "even with twice the number of beds", he said.

Earlier this year John Ughamadu, a Nigerian arrested after he slept naked in a nativity crib in Limerick, was sent to the CMH by a district court judge. Ughamadu appealed to the High Court after being held in a garda station for a week because no bed was available in the CMH.

The High Court judge said Ireland may be in breach of the European Convention on Human Rights and, given the lack of beds in the CMH, there needed to be a "plan B" to deal with such cases.

The Department of Justice said last week that amendments to the 2006 act are being finalised with the attorney general. It is expected that the changes will require judges to consult medical experts before sending prisoners to the CMH.

Darius Whelan, a lecturer in law in University College Cork, said judges needed the power to send defendants requiring psychiatric attention to a facility other than the CMH. "The CMH is a high security environment and it doesn't seem appropriate to send people accused of minor offences there," said Whelan.

Before 2006, judges only sent prisoners to the CMH after hearing medical evidence about their condition. "Certification by a consultant psychiatrist from the designated centre is the absolute minimum essential to ensure that no injustice is done through wrongful detention in a psychiatric hospital," Kennedy told the department earlier this year.

Yesterday he said the current system was "contrary to every normal protection of people's rights. There have been many examples of inappropriate use of this law."

McDowell's Criminal Law (Insanity) Act 2006 has been criticised already for other flaws. The Department of Justice already had plans to amend it so CMH patients who are suitable for conditional discharge can be released under licence.

Earlier this month the Mental Health Review Board ordered the first unconditional release of a CMH patient under the 2006 act, after holding 238 reviews. At least 12 other CMH patients could be released once the board is given the power to recall them if they break the conditions of their release.


Pituch said he believed Roberts was his "soul mate" and still thinks and dreams about her "all the time."

"I don't know why," he added.

Roberts, a mother herself, says she has carried a sense of guilt that Pituch may have been looking for her when he stumbled upon Katsnelson. "I know this is not my fault," she said, "but I can't help but feel some sort of responsibility."

Roberts, who had shared one class with Pituch at Shawnee High School, had to look him up in a yearbook when he began calling her out of the blue years later.

As the phone calls grew more bizarre, Roberts eventually recorded one and played it to Evesham Township police, who said they couldn't act on it because Pituch hadn't specifically threatened her.

Neighbors told Roberts that Pituch had come to her former house looking for her on the day before the murders.

"I knew something was wrong," she said. "I knew he was going to do something."

A memorable calculus class

Pituch said that he is currently on medication that's "helping," but that he hasn't received much counseling since being moved out of the prison's psychiatric ward.

Prison officials will not discuss Pituch's medical treatment.

Schizophrenia, Pituch claims, has been prying his grip on sanity ever since he walked into his first college calculus class in 1994 in Ohio.

"Everything was different that day," he said. "Everything was out of time."

Pituch said it appeared that his teacher was wearing a "witch's hat" and was blurting out "black magic." He left the University of Akron a week later.

For the next eight years, Pituch was in and out of mental-health facilities in South Jersey, finding and losing odd jobs and trying to block out hallucinations with prescribed medication or drown them out with alcohol and hard drugs.

Depressed and strolling through the aisles of a South Jersey Wal-Mart one day, Pituch said, he picked up a Metallica album that included a track called "Ronnie."

The song, which describes a "small-town boy" who "lost his way, this bloody day" had been written solely for him, Pituch believes, and the violence that erupted on Oct. 17, 2002, had been preordained in its lyrics.

"I wish I could relive that day, but I can't. I feel terrible about it. Nothing but shame," he said. "I know some people probably think I'm evil, but I don't think so. I feel like I was damned."

Confessed killer now seeks insanity trial

SOMETIMES, when Ronald Pituch looks into the faces of "good people," he says, he sees only demons.

Mental illness, he says, has twisted his mind for years, and the hallucinations combined with the lyrics of a Metallica song called "Ronnie" pushed him toward some unforetold horror.

His "tenseness" uncoiled on Oct. 17, 2002, leaving his mother, Josephine, and an 11-year-old boy named Gregory Katsnelson dead. He surrendered in connection with both murders and has been behind bars ever since.

Now Pituch, a diagnosed schizophrenic, wants a Burlington County court to throw out the 2004 guilty plea that sent him to prison for 50 years.

He contends that he wasn't properly medicated when he pleaded guilty, and he wants to reopen the case so he can mount an insanity defense. "I believe this case should be re-examined," he said. "I want to try to get back into a hospital."

Pituch himself filed the application to reopen the case and is scheduled to appear in court next month.

Mother slain with a barbell

Shortly after 3 p.m. on that October day almost six years ago, Pituch bludgeoned his mother with a 20-pound barbell.

Police said Pituch snapped when his mother refused to buy him cigarettes. He denies that small detail, but nothing else.

"I felt like it was coming," Pituch, 33, said Tuesday during an interview at the maximum-security New Jersey State Prison, in Trenton. "The walls were coming in."

After tying up his 5-year-old niece, he sped off on a dirt bike from his family's home in Medford, Burlington County, police said.

Meanwhile, Gregory Katsnelson had finished his homework and hopped on his bicycle to find his friends in the woods and trails that snake through the King's Grant development in nearby Evesham Township.

Somewhere in the woods, their paths crossed and Pituch fatally stabbed the honor student, dumping his body into a shallow pond in Evesham.

Pituch turned himself in hours later.

Metallica in his head

Pituch said he had stopped taking his medication months before the murders, despite his family's pleadings. He had become obsessed with a high school classmate, and "Ronnie" was playing in an endless loop inside his head.

"I was drinking and I was out of it. That song was always in my head, too. There was just so much pressure building up. . . . Ahhh," he said, squeezing his trembling hands at the air. "I caved."

The Burlington County Prosecutor's Office, Katsnelson's family, and Nikki Roberts, the high school classmate he had been harassing prior to the murders, all say that Pituch should remain in New Jersey's only maximum-security penitentiary.

"We're confident that when this is reviewed by the court it will be perceived for what it is -- a last-ditch effort to avoid responsibility for his actions on that day," said Burlington County Prosecutor Robert Bernardi.

Katsnelson's parents, Cathy and Mark Katsnelson, said in a prepared statement that "Mr. Bernardi has always done everything he can to ensure that justice is served, and we have absolute faith that he will continue to do so."

The murdered boy's older brother, Aaron Katsnelson, 21, an aspiring graphic designer in Brooklyn, said Pituch destroyed his family's life and his own teenage innocence.

"It was like a big blanket of melancholy had covered my life," he said. "I had to rethink my views."

Aaron Katsnelson attended the sentencing hearing in January 2005, when a tearful Pituch apologized to the family.

"He seemed as if he knew what he was agreeing to," he said. "At this point, no matter what he does, it doesn't change anything."

Obsession with ex-classmate

In the prison interview Tuesday, the 6-foot-2, 210-pound Pituch revealed that he had gone in search of Roberts after he killed his mother. "I don't know if I would have hurt her," he said. "I don't know."

Academia on Palin

Is Sarah Palin really a woman? That's the type of asinine question that could originate only in academia. And, right on cue, here's Wendy Doniger, a divinity professor at the University of Chicago, declaring an all-out assault on S biology. Mrs. Palin's "greatest hypocrisy is in her pretense that she is a woman," the professor carped in a Washington Post blog entry. But she didn't stop there: "The Republican party's cynical calculation that because [Palin] has a womb and makes lots and lots of babies (and drives them to school! Wow!) she speaks for the women of America and will capture their hearts and their votes, has driven thousands of real women to take to their computers in outrage." The pernicious swipes at parenting aside, what to think about a professor who suggests that womanhood is defined by one's devotion to leftist orthodoxy, as if doctors stamp "liberal Democrat" on every female birth certificate? For me, it's another reminder that colleges are a reliable, if uninten tional, source of comic relief. And maybe for you, there's a new benchmark to measure insanity: the University of Chicago's Divinity Department.

Not to be outdone by Ms. Doniger, History Department chairman Catherine McNicol Stock from Connecticut College implied that Mrs. Palin is a white supremacist. "It is hard to know where [Palin] stands on issues of race, equality and diversity," she writes in the Philadelphia Inquirer, noting that the "Pacific Northwest - called by many the 'Great White Northwest' - [is] the very region that Sarah Palin and her family call home." Ah, the logic: There are racists in the Pacific Northwest. Mrs. Palin lives in the Pacific Northwest. Therefore Mrs. Palin is a racist.

If that weren't enough, Ms. Stock asserts that the Alaska governor's convictions on traditional marriage, gun rights and abortion are "radical." Just how radical? Well, let's just say she names Ted Kaczynski, the Unabomber, and Terry Nichols, Timothy McVeigh's accomplice, while saying that Mrs. Palin's ideas "bear a comparison with some of the most notorious 'rural radicals' of our time." Someone please remind Ms. Stock that if she's concerned with domestic extremism, she may want to keep an eye out on Barack Obama's associates - to wit, William Ayers, the unrepentant bomb-thrower, and Jeremiah Wright, the racist reverend.

Juan Cole, a University of Michigan professor, also threw his tinfoil hat in the ring. To him, Mrs. Palin is a theocrat, mirroring the mullahs of Saudi Arabia. A recent article by Mr. Cole on the left-leaning Salon.com was titled "What's the difference between Palin and Muslim fundamentalists? Lipstick." Not content to make outlandish accusations on his own time, Andrew Hallam, an adjunct professor teaching English composition at Metro State College in Denver, required his class to write an essay blasting the Republican vice presidential nominee. Students were compelled to "undermine" what he described as Mrs. Palin's "fairy-tale" image. A college spokesman defended Mr. Hallam, arguing that it was his job to "provide opportunity for critical thinking and civic engagement." Exactly how does spoon-feeding leftist prejudices in a classroom foster "critical thinking"?

Lastly, an attack on Mrs. Palin wouldn't be complete without good old-fashioned Christian-bashing. Playing the predictable part is Nancy Hardesty, a professor of religion at Clemson University, who claims (wrongfully) that when Mrs. Palin "talks about using up our non-renewable resources, drilling on the North Slope and building the pipeline, it's almost with glee because in a sense it doesn't matter. All her brand of Christians may be gone before those things run out." Don't you just feel the tolerance - academia's cardinal virtue - oozing from these folks? Obviously, all college professors aren't leading malicious discussions about John McCain's running mate, but it's worth noting that the same insufferable vitriol dripping from the left over Mrs. Palin is virtually absent from any analyses of Joe Biden and Mr. Obama by conservative instructors - from the handful that exist.

When was the last time a conservative professor questioned Mr. Obama's blackness or maleness because of his positions on energy, tax cuts or abortion? Such blatant malevolence is notably missing. Sure, these liberal professors have a right to say whatever they want, but do we want people who exhibit those types of narrow-minded perspectives teaching our young minds? Apparently campus administrators do, since they keep hiring them.

It's no secret that academia is in the tank for Mr. Obama. Since the start of the presidential campaign, the Obama camp has received more than $10 million from the education industry, according to a report released last month by the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonpartisan watchdog group. In fact, between Mr. Obama and Mr. McCain, "Eighty-nine percent of the education industry's contributions have gone to the Democrat." Eighty-nine percent. Such ideological purity is astonishing considering that nearly half of the country supports Mr. McCain.

And that, my friends, is what administrators and faculty mean when they proclaim their institutions to be bastions of diversity: heavy on leftist representation, short on a variety of ideas.

Brett Myers proves to be a double threat

The final score trumps all, of course. And the fact that Brett Myers pitched like Brett Myers again will be more meaningful as the Phillies continue their march through October. It is a point that no one would even think of arguing.

Still, meaning and memory are different things. What you remember is not necessarily what really matters. Sometimes you remember things that are frivolous, or silly, or outlandish, or fun. Sometimes the big picture is trumped by the single, unforgettable snapshot.

And so, Thursday night will always be remembered as the night when Myers worked CC Sabathia for a walk.

"I know I'm a terrible hitter," Myers would say, after it was over. "I really can't explain it. It was like one of those freakish things."

As long as baseball is discussed in this city, Myers' second-inning at-bat will be played and replayed. The score was tied at 1-1 when Myers walked to the plate. There were two outs and a runner on third base. There were no expectations. The man had six hits in the last three seasons, after all.

Nine pitches later, Myers was standing on first base amid bedlam at Citizens Bank Park.

The ballpark's biggest crowd ever, 46,208, was roaring. Rally towels were waving, creating this hyperactive white sea. Singsong chants of "C ... C, C ... C, C ... C" were begun and then swallowed up in the collective cacophony. It was just insanity.

And two batters later, Shane Victorino provided the raucous punctuation with a grand slam. It turned out to be all the runs the Phillies needed in a 5-2 win over the Milwaukee Brewers.

"I was able to lay off some good pitches that he made and able to extend his pitch count," said Myers, who also had a 10-pitch at-bat against Sabathia in the fourth inning. He also got a single off reliever Seth McClung in the fifth, at which point the entire place would have fainted if it hadn't been so busy screaming.

Sabathia threw 98 pitches. Myers saw nearly 20 percent of them. It was grandly absurd. As he himself said, "Baseball's weird like that where you can have a guy that pretty much can't hit a lick go up there and battle a guy that's as good as CC. It's just part of the game."

Victorino's grand slam was a rocket to leftfield. The result was a 2-0 lead over the Brewers in the best-of-five series. The building confidence in the Phillies' clubhouse cannot be ignored, and will be recalled if this becomes a long October run.

But the walk is what will endure.

It is hard to emphasize just how low the expectations were when Myers strode to the plate in the second inning. His most famous at-bat in 2008 had come in a late August game against the Mets, when the bench was depleted in the 13th inning and Myers was sent up to the plate with orders from Phils manager Charlie Manuel not to swing. He worked the count to 3-2 with some hilarious pantomimes of a slugger before striking out. Chris Coste came up behind him and drove in the winning run.

But that was it _ shtick, not substance. That was the anticipation. And when Myers swung and missed at Sabathia's first two pitches, it all seemed as if it would be routine enough. But then came the first ball, and then a foul ball, and then the crowd began to stir.

Sabathia was already laboring. Those three consecutive starts on three days' rest had maybe, just maybe taken their toll as Sabathia tried to do it for a fourth time. He was the standard upon which the underdog Brewers hung their hopes, and he was already wavering. You wonder if the Phillies sensed any frustration in him.

"I really didn't sense anything," Myers said. "I was just out there trying to keep battling the best I could. Like I said, I'm not a very good hitter. It was kind of freakish, basically."

Again with the freakishness. The fifth pitch of the at-bat was ball two, and then Myers hit another foul ball and broke his bat. As he walked over to get a new one, that was when the crowd really took the thing to Defcon 5.

Because if there is one thing the people here can do, it is smell blood.

The thing just built from there, taking on a life of its own. Ball three; roar. Another foul ball; another roar. And with everybody now on their feet, completely swept up in the moment, towels waving, decibels rising, Sabathia delivered the ninth pitch of the at-bat.

Ball four.

Again, bedlam.

"I don't think it frustrated me," Sabathia said later. "I just think that (it was) not being able to make pitches when I needed to. I had two strikes on him, 0-2. Ended up walking him. This game for me was about finishing ... "

Of course, without Victorino's grand slam, or without the victory, this would not have been such an enduring memory. And after a couple of questions about the at-bat, Myers was heard to wonder, "Did I pitch tonight?"

Well, yes. Apparently.

Suspect in fatal police crash heads to mental facility

A 25-year-old man accused of laughing after crashing into two police officers -- killing one -- will be moved temporarily to a mental health facility after being found incompetent to stand trial on a manslaughter charge.

Hung Dasian Truong will spend a maximum of 90 days at a state mental hospital before being re-evaluated to go on trial in the death of Houston police officer Gary Gryder.

Truong also is accused of crashing into officer Joe Pyland, whose leg was fractured.

"This is not a finding of insanity," said Harris County prosecutor Denise Bradley. Bradley said the jail psychologist who diagnosed Truong believes he could be "restored to mental competency within the foreseeable future."

Police say Truong's Toyota sedan crashed through construction barriers at the Katy Freeway's eastbound feeder road at Texas 6, about 5:30 a.m. June 29. After the crash, Truong acted bizarrely, laughing and acting jovial and nonchalant about what happened, police said.

Man testifies that voice told him to kill his ex-wife

A man accused in the fatal beating of his ex-wife at her office in May took the stand in his murder trial this afternoon.

Brent Stephens, 39, is accused of striking his ex-wife at least 20 times with an aluminum baseball bat. He has filed paperwork notifying the court that he plans to use an insanity defense.

Mr. Stephens testified that he loved his ex-wife and wanted her back. Sometime before he beat her to death with an aluminum bat, he said that love died.

"I was sick with jealousy," Mr. Stephens said, staring straight ahead during much of his hour-long testimony. "Then that love turned to hate."

Mr. Stephens testified that he was diagnosed with bipolar disorder in 1997 when he said he checked into a drug rehabilitation center to break his methamphetamine addiction. Earlier this year, he lost his job and could no longer afford his prescribed medication, which he said totaled about $2,000 a month.

Mr. Stephens said a voice that felt like it was right behind told him to kill his wife, and then kill himself.

Denise Stephens divorced Mr. Stephens in September 2007 after a two-year separation, during which she told divorce court officials and her family that he tried to commit suicide and regularly accused her of having an affair.

Barbara Harrison, who worked in the same office building as Ms. Stephens, testified that on May 12 she noticed Mr. Stephens standing in a breezeway looking out toward the building's front entrance. About 10 minutes later, she said she heard screaming outside her office.

"The same man I saw earlier, he had a baseball bat and he was striking her in the head over and over again," Ms. Harrison said.

"I started screaming at him, 'Stop. Stop. You're killing her,'" Ms. Harrison said.

About an hour after the morning attack, police responded to a report that a man was straddling an overpass railing on the George Bush Turnpike in Carrollton. Police found Mr. Stephens and negotiated with him for about an hour before his arrest.

Ms. Stephens had been fearful of her ex-husband, according to an affidavit for a protective order, which a Collin County judge granted. She told officials that Mr. Stephens was a danger to her, their children and himself. The Stephenses have three young daughters.

Ms. Stephens described Mr. Stephens' bipolar disorder, a suicide attempt in 2006, how he rammed her car from behind with his car, and broke into her house to steal her phone bill in an attempt to see to whom she had been talking.

Ms. Stephens' boss, Dr. Edgar Nace, told The Dallas Morning News that he knew Mr. Stephens was upset about the divorce, but never expected violence.