Original article no longer available
July 1, 2003
By MICHELE MORGAN BOLTON, Staff writer
Troy — Psychiatrist testifies that Wilhelm was too delusional to understand her actions
First published: Tuesday, July 1, 2003
An acutely psychotic Christine Wilhelm tried to save her children from what she thought was a “fate worse than death” on April 15, 2002, when she drowned one son in the bathtub and tried to kill his brother, a psychiatrist testified Monday.
The 39-year-old Hoosick Falls mother was seeing werewolves and believed her husband planned to sacrifice Luke, 4, and Peter, 5, in a satanic ritual, Dr. Stephen Price said Monday at the start of the murder trial’s fifth week.
“She may have known it was wrong, but in her mind … she was not harming the children, she was saving them,” Price said. “Her judgment was extremely impaired … She was returning Luke to heaven.”
In his second day of testimony, Price rebuffed prosecutor Joel Abelove’s attempts to get him to agree Wilhelm knew what she was doing when she forcibly held Luke under water in the bathtub of the family’s 63 River Road home until he died.
But the practicing psychiatrist and associate professor of clinical psychiatry at Albany Medical College said the Amsterdam native was too delusional to appreciate the outcome of her actions.
Defense lawyers Jerry Frost and John Turi claim that paranoid schizophrenia renders Wilhelm not responsible for the three counts of second-degree murder and one count of attempted second-degree murder she faces in the crimes, which have drawn national attention following Frost’s appearance Friday on the “Good Morning America” TV show.
Price, who was hired by the defense, worked to poke holes in the findings of forensic psychiatrist Dr. Park Dietz from a two-day interview with Wilhelm in May 2002.
Among the grounds for Dietz’s conclusion that Wilhelm seems to know right from wrong are the claims she stopped killing Peter at his frantic request; told her mother what she had done; dried Luke and put him to bed after her first attempt to drown him; and then called 911 at 2 a.m. to report his death.
Price said the examples, rather, are “a reflection of ambivalence, which is a hallmark of the disease. It’s the psychological and delusional conflict of how to save the children.”
Blood samples drawn from Wilhelm the day after the slaying indicate a clear absence of antipsychotic medication along with a normal dose of the antidepressant Zoloft, Price said, adding that failure to take the anti-psychotic can be dangerous.
“It tends to increase psychotic symptoms,” he said, as would the steroid Albuterol, which Wilhelm believes her husband slipped into her lemonade the night she wrapped leashes around her boys’ legs and dragged them under water.
Wilhelm was more animated than usual Monday as she whispered in assistant public defender John Turi’s ear and chatted girlishly over her shoulder to relatives.
But the Albuterol reference caused her to snap her head forward and sob aloud.
Jurors also heard from Dr. Tonia Werner, a Florida psychiatrist who was Wilhelm’s attending physician during an 11-day involuntary hospitalization from May 25 to June 4, 2001.
On May 28, 2001, Wilhelm called 911 from her hospital ward in Florida to report that someone had smuggled her children onto the smoking patio and ritually burned them in a garbage can, Werner said: “She was distraught over this delusion … and was given an emergency treatment of antipsychotic medication. … She also said the termite man had put listening devices under her home and she had crawled underneath to check.”
Werner said one colleague described Wilhelm’s delusions as so intense that she was “at risk” of acting on them, Werner said. Another, Dr. John McKenzie, said Wilhelm refused to take her medication and insisted she didn’t have a problem.
A judge who presided over a hearing related to the involuntary committal under Florida’s Baker Act said “there is substantial likelihood in her future that she will inflict bodily harm on herself or another person while under a delusion,” Werner said.
Yet Wilhelm left the hospital planning to cooperate with her treatment plan and said she’d allow her husband to make all the decisions, Werner said.
Frost sparred with Rensselaer County Judge Patrick J. McGrath in midafternoon after Frost’s second mistrial request of the day — and eighth in four weeks — was rejected.
The veteran public defender charged the bench and claimed prosecutors were creating prejudice against Wilhelm for her frequent requests to talk to her attorneys during examinations and interviews.
“She has every right to talk to her lawyer,” Frost said, ignoring McGrath’s heated order to retreat.
“I don’t need any lectures from you, Mr. Frost,” the judge finally shouted, as he stabbed at the air with his index finger. “No mistrial. Sit down, or I’ll hold you in contempt.”
Court resumes at 10 a.m. today.