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The Denver Post
July 23, 1996
Author: Angela Cortez Denver Post Staff Writer
People talk openly about diabetes and even cancer, but the stigma and silence that surround mental illness can be deadly. Mental health professionals say many patients with mental disorders can function well with medication and other treatment, especially given recent innovations in drug therapy. But problems arise when the treatment is inconsistent, family and friends do not understand the patient’s changing behaviors and support systems are lax. Those breakdowns are more common with mental disorders than physical ailments because of the silence and lack of funding that plagues mental illness treatment programs.
Those problems can lead to suicide and even homicide in some extreme cases, psychiatrists say. On July 19, David Lynn Cooper, a 33-year-old former mental patient, was arrested after Wheat Ridge police discovered the nude, mutilated body of his daughter Renee inside his home. The 10-year-old girl had been stabbed and sexually assaulted. Last week Cooper was charged with her murder, sexual assault and abuse of a corpse. Cooper lived alone except for summer visits from Renee. His mother, Marilyn Cooper, said she didn’t know if he was on anti-depressant or anti-psychotic medications or if it had recently changed. “If we had any concerns, we would have done something,” she said.
It’s uncommon for those under mental health treatment to act violently against others – although they often commit suicide, said Doris Gunderson, medical director of the University North Pavilion/Medication Clinic and professor of psychiatry at University of Colorado Health Sciences Center. The rage can turn outward if the medications are stopped or adjusted without supervision. That is a possibility in the case of Cooper, who was under court order to take anti-psychotic and anti-depressant medication, she said. Cooper had been released from the supervision of the Colorado Mental Health Institute at Pueblo just four months ago.
He was ordered to the hospital by a Jefferson County district judge in 1992 after he was found not guilty by reason of insanity in a knife attack on his father. While there, Cooper told therapists that his father was also known as Jimmy Hoffa. Cooper was diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder, court records show. Even before the attack on his father, Cooper had sought mental health care. In 1991, he told therapists he was depressed and could not concentrate following his divorce from Renee’s mother. He was given Prozac, a mood-altering drug widely prescribed for clinical depression, a serious medical illness that afflicts up to 10 percent of the population, according to court records.
A judge released him from state hospital supervision in March on condition that he continue taking anti-depressant and anti-psychotic medications and remain an outpatient at the Jefferson County Center for Mental Health. He is now in jail under a suicide watch. Harriet Hall, chief executive officer for the Jefferson County Center for Mental Health, said she could not confirm that Cooper was on medication or even that he was seen as an outpatient because of medical privacy laws. Colorado Mental Health Institute officials refused to discuss Cooper as well.
But his case bears a striking resemblance to two 1993 murders in Greeley and Hudson. In Greeley, Paul Wilkinson, then 28, told two officers that he was reading Bible verses to his mother, 66-year-old Dorothy, then beat and stabbed her to death because he thought she was the devil. He cleansed himself in bleach, then walked down the street, kicking signs, talking to himself and stuffing grass in his pants after the slaying on April 27, 1993. He referred to his mother in many different ways, including “Babylon,” Detective Clay Buckingham said. His attorney, Michael Emmons, argued that a change in Wilkinson’s medication sparked the attack. Wilkinson was diagnosed as bipolar, or manic-depressive, which is characterized by depression alternating with episodes of mania. On the day of the slaying, Wilkinson’s parents noticed a change in his behavior and called a local mental health clinic. They could not get an appointment until the following day.
Bruce Moser was 41 when he stabbed his 70-year-old mother, Marguerite, eight times, leaving her partially nude body in his bedroom in their rural Hudson home. Police had to coax Moser from his room, where he was wrapped only in a sheet. Moser had been admitted to the state mental hospital in Pueblo twice and had attempted suicide prior to his mother’s slaying on July 17, 1993. His mental evaluations were sealed, but he was under psychiatric care at the time of the attack, police said.
Both Wilkinson and Moser were found incompetent to stand trial and remain in the custody of the Colorado Mental Health Institute. “(People with mental illnesses) can be dangerous,” said Gundersen. “But the great majority are not violent. They more often are victimized. “But because mental illness is misunderstood and stigmatized, the few (violent cases) become sensationalized and draw attention from media and the public,” she said. “People ask, “What’s wrong with this person?’ The important thing for the public to know is that these individuals have treatable illnesses.” The problem is they often don’t receive the proper medications or decide they feel fine and choose to discontinue the drugs, she said.
“No one wants to have a mental illness, and people in general are reluctant to take medications,” Gundersen said. “They want to believe that they are in control and can manage a situation. There is a great deal of stigma about psychotropic medications. Individuals are conditioned to believe that taking a medication is a crutch when, in fact, those medications may allow them to function successfully in society and suffer less.”
Friends and family must learn to recognize the early signs of trouble and intervene in a nonthreatening way. If they can’t, Gundersen said, relatives should not feel guilty about calling police to get the ailing family member treated and keep others safe. “For me, that is the most frustrating thing, when they refuse to take their medications,” said Catherine Ray, whose sister is bipolar. “It’s scary because from time to time … she is suicidal. But it’s a difficult subject for us to handle because there is so much attention to the violent behavior and little to those who stay on their medication, hold down a job and function reasonably well.” People with mental illness need support from family, friends, employers and the medical community. Ray said it’s hard to deal with her sister at times, but she knows her support is crucial.
“Some of our family members don’t want to see her,” Ray said. “They don’t want to talk to her. I tell her, “You look like an adult, but when you’re not well, you don’t act like an adult.’ I have to remember that’s not her, it’s her illness talking, and we have to get her some help.”…
Record Number: DNVR651439
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Colo. dad charged in daughter’s sex death — (upi)
July 24, 1996
Police in the Denver suburb of Wheat Ridge were called to Cooper’s home late Friday and found the suspect leaning against a fence saying, ‘Arrest me, then go into the kitchen,’ where they found Renee’s body. Cooper remains jailed without bond at the Jefferson County Detention Center under a suicide watch, authorities said. Cooper’s wife was believed to be in the Phoenix area but had not contacted Colorado authorities by late Wednesday. Police say that hours before she was slain, Renee begged a friend to let her go home with her. But the friend said she had other plans and Renee went to her father’s home. Cooper was placed in the Colorado Mental Health Institute in Pueblo in 1992 after attacking his father with a pocket knife upon arrival at the older man’s home for a visit. Cooper’s brother Daniel intervened while their mother, Marilyn, called 911. The attack left Daniel Cooper and the father, Charles, with facial injuries. Records show Cooper sought psychotherapy for depression in 1988, started taking Prozac in 1991, but told counselors it sometimes made him delusional, The Denver Post reported. He was released from the state hospital about four months ago after counselors concluded he no longer suffered from an ‘abnormal mental condition’ which could cause ‘dangerous’ behavior, records showed.