Judge to review ruling freeing killer— (Go Memphis)

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Go Memphis

By Lawrence Buser, buser@gomemphis.com

September 21, 2002

Waived holding woman for mental tests

A judge said Friday he will reconsider his recent controversial decision to waive the mandatory commitment of a woman he found not guilty of first-degree murder by reason of insanity.
Criminal Court Judge John Colton Jr. said he would rule next week whether to grant a motion by state prosecutors to commit Sandra Baumgartner to a mental facility for a 60- to 90-day evaluation.
The law calls for a mandatory commitment but Colton agreed last week with defense attorney Seymour Rosenberg that it can be waived because several doctors say she is not commitable and because she is enrolled in an outpatient treatment program.
“The type of evaluation the legislature intended is the type of evaluation that Sandra Baumgartner received,” said Rosenberg. “It’s not a form of punishment.” Baumgartner, 41, a nurse, confessed to killing Germantown resident Daniel Morgan, whose body was found in his apartment April 9 last year with more than 100 stab wounds. They had met several days earlier at a music store.
Doctors say she has been treated for a variety of mental illnesses, including schizoaffective disorder, and that she was given the wrong medicine – an anti-depressant instead of an anti-psychotic – three months before the stabbing.
State prosecutors did not contest the finding of not guilty by reason of insanity, but urged Colton to have Baumgartner committed and, if released, to be placed on a strictly supervised outpatient program with periodic reviews by the court.
“We want this woman to be supervised for the public safety,” said state prosecutor James Wax. “We don’t want to find out that the first time she’s off her medication she’s hurt someone else.”
Rosenberg said having Baumgartner committed to a mental institution would put her at risk of being harmed by other patients and also would be unnecessarily costly to taxpayers.
“Does your honor want to be known as the elected official who saved taxpayers $30,000 to $45,000 dollars or the one who cost the taxpayers $40,000 to $45,000 that was unnecessary?” Rosenberg asked Colton.
Wax countered that Rosenberg’s argument would place money issues over lives and the public safety.
The victim’s sister, Marilissa Morgan, read a statement in the brief hearing in which she asked the judge to reconsider his waiver of commitment.
“This is an excruciatingly painful time for me, my family and I’m sure the Baumgartners as well,” said Morgan, who discovered her older brother’s body in the apartment they shared. “The defendant desperately needs help for herself and for the safety of society.”
Baumgartner, who remains free on $100,000 bond, hopes to resume her nursing career, according to her family and her attorney.
– Lawrence Buser: 529-2385


To view complete trial transcript click here


March 4, 2003 Session


Appeal from the Criminal Court for Shelby County No. 01-11924 John P. Colton, Jr., Judge

Dr. McNeal testified that he was aware that the defendant was accused of stabbing the victim with a knife 120 times. Regarding her potential for committing future violent crimes, he noted that she had received mental health treatment from 1992 until the offense in 2001 and had no aggressive behavior during that time. He said the present offense was precipitated by her antipsychotic medication being inadvertently switched to an antidepressant, which led to the atypical deterioration
of her mental functioning over a period of months. He said that after the offense, she had not displayed any aggressive behavior. He stated that while at MMHI, the defendant had shown no symptoms of her mental illness, which is well-controlled by her medicine. He characterized her as kind and helpful to the other patients. He said that the isolated incident of violence seemed to have occurred from special circumstances and that it was safe to return the defendant to a community
treatment program under fairly intensive supervision…

Dr. Smith testified that the defendant was also taking Seroquel, an antipsychotic medication, once daily at bedtime. He said that she was taking this medicine before the offense and that it had been replaced with the antidepressant Serzone. He said someone with the defendant’s diagnosis can be treated with an antidepressant, but if the antidepressant is not closely monitored, it can exacerbate the patient’s symptoms. He said that when Serzone was substituted for Seroquel, the defendant had nothing to prevent her delusions and hallucinations and that as a result, she became psychotic. He believed that the defendant needed to continue on Seroquel indefinitely, pending any side effects.

He said the defendant was also taking Depacoat E. R., a mood stabilizer, twice daily when she came to MMHI. He said that because she was experiencing hair loss as a side effect of the Depacoat, he switched her to Trileptal, which she also takes twice daily. He said Trileptal is an anticonvulsive medicine commonly used in psychiatry as a mood-stabilizing agent to prevent the patient from having manic symptoms. He said that the defendant takes all of these medications orally in pill