A Depression More Powerful Than Love — (Los Angeles Times)

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Los Angeles Times


June 22, 2000

Christine Humbert told her family she never fell out of love with her husband, even after he sliced her neck while she slept earlier this year.  “It’s time for both of us to go,” he told her. “We had enough. We’ll go together.”

She recognized, her family said, that Johnny Humbert had momentarily lost the struggle against mental illness that had plagued both of them for years.

Last week, Johnny Humbert killed himself by stepping into the path of a Metrolink train in Anaheim.  Within hours, Christine Humbert, 49, was in a hospital for treatment of severe depression.

“They loved each other like no other couple I’ve met,” said Claudia Gaona, the Orange County public defender who represented Humbert on charges of attempted murder in his attack on Christine.

Theirs was an unusual brand of love, one that underscored the difficulty of prosecuting the mentally ill. “Here were two people dealing with mental illness, who loved each other tremendously,” Gaona said.

The prosecutor has said Humbert never should have been released from custody. Gaona said she tried to get more treatment for Humbert but had trouble making appointments under his medical plan.

But Christine Humbert’s brother, Ed Bevill, isn’t thinking about blame.

“Sometimes everybody does the best they can and nothing is going to help,” Bevill said.  He let Johnny Humbert live with him after his release from jail in May. “As we look at it, we probably couldn’t have done more.”

If there was a driving force behind Johnny and Christine Humbert it was love, her brother said, not mental illness.

After more than 25 years together, they still drove to the beach at least once a week to watch the sunset.

“He was never a violent person,” said Bevill, 52. “He was exactly the opposite.”

Humbert was close with Bevill’s 7-year-old son, Frankie.  The boy wanted a pet dog, but his father and mother said no.

So the Humberts got the boy a pet dog and a cat, and kept them at their Yorba Linda house.

In the weeks before the Feb. 11 knife attack, Humbert had begun taking a new prescription for depression.  Gaona, the public defender, said that Humbert’s mood improved and that he became more outgoing, which she said sent his wife into a spiral of depression.

“She became unsure about her role in his life,” Gaona said.  When Humbert took her to Western Medical Center for treatment, she weighed less than 90 pounds, Gaona said. Days later, Humbert went back to pick his wife up.

“He was really upset,” Christine Humbert told police, according to court records. “He knew I had to stay but the medical insurance ran out. I wanted to stay because I could tell I was getting better.”

She described Humbert as being particularly loving that night, according to police records. “Johnny was so sweet by cleaning the house from top to bottom,” she said.

She awoke from a nap the next day as her husband tried to kill her.

“I kept saying his name to get him to snap out of it,” she told police. “He just flipped. He wasn’t himself. The next thing I knew he wanted me to lay on the bed and use the pillow with pressure to stop the bleeding.”

Humbert called 911 about 8:10 a.m.   Christine Humbert later tried to get police to understand her husband the way she did.

“Johnny has never been violent,” she said. “We totally love each other.  It was all the stress and Prozac he takes.”

Police arrested Humbert, and prosecutors charged him with attempted murder and assault with a deadly weapon. He was placed under suicide watch at Orange County Jail. He was taken off Prozac and placed on a mood stabilizer, but not an antidepressant, Gaona said.

In an extraordinary display of support, three months after Humbert slashed his wife’s throat, her family gathered to urge Orange County Municipal Judge Martin Hairabedian Jr. to reduce his bail from $250,000 to $10,000.

They argued that Humbert was not a dangerous person. Hairabedian agreed and Humbert’s in-laws immediately posted the bail. Humbert was released on the condition that he live with the Bevills, not have physical contact with his wife, continue his psychiatric treatment and return to work at the Fullerton Unified High School maintenance yard.

The family thought the worst was behind them.

“She loved him, and we could see that they were going to be able to get together and that life would be normal again,” said Ed Bevill, a retired salesman.

On June 12, Humbert went to work as usual but left early. No one knows where he went.

Tuesday morning, they learned in a telephone call from a prosecutor that Humbert was dead. “He gave no indication he was going to do this,” Bevill said.

Humbert’s death is shrouded in painful irony.

“He didn’t want to become a burden to anyone,” Bevill said. “He wasn’t a burden. Everything that was going to happen to him in the future was positive. He was taking medications and was seeing counselors.”

In the end, Kathy Bevill said, the weight of his illness crushed all else.

“It was more overwhelming than the love he knew we felt for him,” she said.

Ed Bevill hopes his sister won’t collapse under the same weight. She remains in a hospital, and the family has delayed Humbert’s funeral, hoping she recovers enough to take part.

“Johnny was her entire world,” he said.

Times staff writer Hector Becerra contributed to this report.