Original article no longer available
The Associated Press
Aug 31, 2003
ST. PAUL, Minn. – A Villanova University professor charged with killing her baby daughter with a kitchen knife apparently committed suicide in jail by putting a plastic garbage bag over her head, authorities said Sunday.
Mine Ener had been on a suicide watch, and her attorney blamed prosecutors Sunday, saying she should have been hospitalized. Ramsey County Attorney Susan Gaertner said keeping Ener in jail was appropriate and suggested Ener had been “committed to overcoming” all security measures intended to keep her from hurting herself.
Ramsey County Sheriff Bob Fletcher said Ener, 38, appeared to be sleeping with a blanket pulled over her head when a deputy checked on her through a window at 3:15 p.m. Saturday. But a jailer who went into her cellblock to check on her a half-hour later pulled down the blanket and found a garbage bag tied over her head.
Attempts to revive Ener failed, and the history professor was pronounced dead an hour later at Regions Hospital. She did not leave a suicide note, the sheriff said.
“We’re not a psychiatric ward. And it is next to impossible to stop someone from killing themselves if they’re intelligent, and they have a strong intent to do that,” Fletcher said at a news conference Sunday.
Ener had been jailed on a charge of second-degree murder. She was accused of using a kitchen knife to cut the throat of her 6-month-old daughter, Raya Donagi, during a visit to her mother’s St. Paul home Aug. 4.
According to court papers, Raya had Down syndrome, and Ener told police she couldn’t stand seeing her daughter suffer. Ener said she was afraid that doctors would have to put the girl back on a feeding tube.
Ener also said she was considering suicide and that she was on medication for postpartum depression.
Fletcher said prisoners normally don’t have access to plastic bags, such as the white kitchen can-sized bag found on Ener, and investigators will try to determine how she got it.
The sheriff said suffocation is an unusual way to commit suicide, and that the human instinct to breathe would normally make it difficult. Investigators are looking into whether medications might have been a factor, and preliminary autopsy results were expected Tuesday, he said.
Fletcher said Ener was put on suicide watch Aug. 16 after deputies spotted her attempting to fashion a noose. She was subjected to more frequent checks and made to wear clothes made of Kevlar fiber that were too strong to be torn.
Ener’s defense attorney, Joe Friedberg, accused Gaertner of politicizing the case and blamed the prosecutor for Ener’s death.
“The jail wasn’t set up for people who are psychotic and those who are self-destructive,” Friedberg said.
Gaertner responded that the court had made no determination about Ener’s mental condition and that it was “completely appropriate” to hold her at the jail.
“In the case of Ms. Ener, special security precautions were in place because of her potential for self harm,” Gaertner said in a written statement. “The manner in which she took her own life suggests that she was committed to overcoming those security measures.”
Gaertner said Friedberg did not express any safety concerns or seek a mental evaluation of Ener during a court appearance last Wednesday.
Sheriff Fletcher said only a judge has the authority to order a prisoner moved from the jail to a psychiatric facility.
Friedberg said Ener’s family is “totally grief-stricken.”
Villanova spokeswoman Barbara K. Clement said the news of Ener’s death shocked her.
“All of us at Villanova are deeply saddened by this tragedy,” Clement said. “We mourn her and pray for her and her family.”