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The Seattle Times
November 12, 2009
By PAUL J. WEBER (AP) – 9 hours ago
SAN ANTONIO Otty Sanchez got six weeks in a state mental hospital after she was found wandering around a drug store last year, shopping for an imaginary trip to China.
She got a few hours in an emergency room, then a ride home, in July as a new mom hearing dark voices.
Three-week-old Scott Wesley Buchholz-Sanchez was dead six days later, decapitated and missing fingers and toes, while police say his mother wailed about how the devil made her do it. But as Sanchez readies for her first court appearance Thursday, the question remains: could someone have stopped it?
“There was no, ‘Here, she’s suffering from postpartum psychosis you better do this, do that and keep an eye on her every minute,'” said Ed Camara, Sanchez’s attorney. “They have no idea what they’re dealing with until after this happened.”
Sanchez, 33, is charged with capital murder in the death of her son. His father said Sanchez should “burn in hell” and deserves the death penalty for dismembering their only child.
A judge Thursday will consider two jailhouse psychiatric evaluations that concluded Sanchez is mentally competent to stand trial. Camara, who expects Sanchez to ultimately enter a plea of not guilty by reason of insanity, said he doesn’t intend to dispute those findings.
But Camara does find fault with the care that Sanchez, a diagnosed schizophrenic who he says was wracked with postpartum psychosis, received in the days and weeks before police found Scotty’s mutilated body in a bloody bedroom.
The autopsy report spells out the attack in nauseating detail: mutilated genitals, the head nearly decapitated and the skin flayed. Authorities said Sanchez ate parts of her son, including the brain, and medical examiners found apparent bite marks across the body.
Sanchez’s sister made the horrifying discovery before sunrise, and Otty can be heard screaming, “I didn’t mean to do it! He told me to!” while her sister pleads for an ambulance in a desperate 911 call. Sanchez later wailed to her sister that she thought everyone was dead.
Bexar County prosecutor Yvonne Gonzalez said her office would pursue the death penalty on the legal presumption that Sanchez was sane. Although prosecutors were still gathering medical records, she said there were signs Sanchez had been “functioning quite well,” including holding down a job for several years.
“We’re not really sure she had a long history of mental illness,” Gonzalez said.
Scott Buccholz, the baby’s father and a self-described schizophrenic, insisted that Sanchez had appeared fine and gave no hint of a severe mental illness.
An estimated one in 1,000 women are afflicted with postpartum psychosis. Unlike postpartum depression, which occurs in as many as one in five new mothers, women with postpartum psychosis can suffer dangerous delusions and desires to hurt their child.
The same illness tormented Andrea Yates, the suburban Houston mother who drowned her five children in a bathtub in 2001, and Dena Schlosser, another Texas mother who cut off her baby’s arms in 2004, according to the women’s attorneys.
Doctors say the risk of developing postpartum psychosis is 50 percent or higher for women with schizophrenia who are not taking medication. Camara says Sanchez fits the bill: although Sanchez was prescribed the antidepressant citalopram after giving birth, she only took it once the day before her son was killed. Such drugs take weeks to begin working.
It was one of a handful of times that Sanchez appeared to try reining in her mental illness.
She wound up shuffling around an Austin drug store for eight hours last summer, Camara said, only after going to the city with a friend who said an acupuncturist there could help her mental problems.
A week before the killing, Camara said an ambulance rushed Sanchez to a hospital from a counseling center where she had made an appointment because she was feeling depressed and having hallucinations.
Advocates say resources for indigent women with mental disorders are sparse in Texas, which is ranked 49th in per capita mental health expenditures, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness.
At the Center for Health Care Services in San Antonio, where Camara said Sanchez was referred for outpatient treatment, about 2,000 more people are served each year than the state pays for, CHCS President Leon Evans said.
State mental hospitals are no less overwhelmed.
“My job here is to get people out, bottom line,” said Dr. David Gonzalez, a psychiatrist at the San Antonio State Hospital. “They have hired me to treat people so I can get them out of the hospital. I’m here to keep people out.”
Gonzalez said a sanity evaluation might be ordered if Sanchez is declared competent to stand trial. Prosecutors could change how they proceed depending on those results, Gonzalez said.
In the meantime, Sanchez sits in an isolated cell awaiting trial. Recently, Camara said, music coming from a jailhouse speaker triggered Sanchez into a flashback of the night her son died. The hallucinations returned, Camara said, and Sanchez called over a guard for help.
A jailer handed Sanchez some more medication. She calmed down.
“If only that had been available to her that evening,” Camara said.
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Texas mom who dismembered baby not guilty by reason of insanity, will go to state institution
Defense attorneys entered the plea on behalf of Otty Sanchez, 33, and it was accepted shortly thereafter as part of an agreement with prosecutors.
Scott Wesley Buchholz-Sanchez was three weeks old when authorities who received a frantic 911 call from the boy’s aunt arrived to find his mutilated body, and Sanchez wailing the devil made her do it. On the call, Sanchez can be heard screaming, “I didn’t mean to do it! He told me to!” while her sister pleads for an ambulance.
“This was probably one of the most horrendous cases that we have seen as far as the murder of a child,” said County District Attorney Susan Reed.
Sanchez was charged with capital murder and was found competent to stand trial. But Reed said after three examinations by separate doctors determined she was legally insane when she killed her son, the court had no choice but to accept the plea.
“She will be committed until the court decides she is not a danger to herself or anyone else,” Reed said.
Reed said she was horrified by what Sanchez did, but also disturbed by the fact that she had sought treatment before killing her son and did not receive the care she needed.
Sanchez periodically sought treatment for mental illness before her son was born and even spent a few hours in an emergency room after the birth because she was hearing voices less than a week before the attack.
Defense attorney Ed Camara said she had been prescribed the antidepressant citalopram after giving birth but had only taken it the day before killing her son. The drugs do not take effect for a few weeks.
An estimated 1,000 women are afflicted with postpartum psychosis. Women with the diagnosis can suffer dangerous delusions and desires to hurt their children, unlike postpartum depression, which occurs in as many as one in five new mothers.
Andrea Yates, the suburban Houston mother who drowned her five children in a bathtub in 2001, and Dena Schlosser, who cut off her baby’s arms in 2004 both suffered from the psychosis, their attorneys said.
The justice system has come a long way since Yates was convicted and faced a possible death sentence in 2002, said her attorney, Greg Parnham.
Yates was sentenced to life in prison before her case was overturned on appeal, after which she was found not guilty by reason of insanity in 2006 and sent to a state hospital.
“I think that we have to understand as a society that this gender-based mental disability is real,” Parnham said. “New mothers sometimes experience severe depression — some of those mothers become psychotic.”