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.
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