Insanity plea by woman accused of throwing child out window

EVERETT — A woman was too mentally ill to understand what she was doing when she threw her 1-year-old nephew out a second-story window in Lynnwood, according to a state psychologist.

The boy survived the fall, but suffered multiple broken bones.

Beteha Kebede, who has schizophrenia, was suffering from paranoia, delusions and hallucinations during the July, 3, 2014, assault. She was not taking medication for her condition at the time. She tossed the boy out of a window because she somehow believed that would prevent her family from killing her, her two children in California, and her brother in Ethiopia, according to a Dec. 14 evaluation.

The psychologist concluded Kebede, in that moment, couldn’t tell right from wrong.

Kebede on Wednesday pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity to second-degree child assault. Her attorney, Jennifer Bartlett, asked that Kebede be acquitted of the charge based on her mental state.

Snohomish County Superior Court Judge Michael Downes granted the motion during a lengthy court hearing. He reviewed two mental health evaluations, treatment records, and hundreds of pages of police reports. The judge concluded that Kebede committed the crime but was suffering from a mental disease that prevented her from understanding the nature of her actions.

“I’m well aware of the fact that sometimes insanity defenses get used hoping to avoid responsibility, and sometimes insanity defenses get looked at with a jaundiced eye,” Downes said. “But it’s eminently clear at the time of these acts, Ms. Kebede met the definition of insanity by the state of Washington.”

Bartlett asked that Kebede not be confined to Western State Hospital, and be allowed to remain out of custody to continue mental health treatment at a community clinic.

The public defender said she’d been working with Kebede for about 18 months. Her condition has significantly improved with treatment. Regular medication has “made a world of difference,” Bartlett said.

Downes concluded that Kebede poses a substantial risk to others if her mental illness isn’t properly treated or if she isn’t adequately monitored by the court. He agreed with Bartlett however, that it appears the defendant’s illness can be treated outside the walls of the state’s psychiatric hospital.

Kebede has been undergoing treatment for more than a year, Downes pointed out. Her symptoms are being controlled by medication. She is working part time.

It is in the best interest of the defendant and the public to allow her to continue her outpatient treatment, he said. The judge imposed strict conditions and close monitoring that could last up to a decade.

The judge ordered the state Department of Corrections to supervise Kebede and immediately notify the court if she violates the conditions of her release or if her mental state decompensates. He ordered the same of her treatment provider, Sunrise Services, which must file monthly progress reports with the court.

Kebede isn’t allowed to be around children unsupervised. Downes ordered her to take her medications and follow all recommendations of her therapist. She isn’t allowed to change therapists unless she notifies the court and she isn’t allowed to leave the state.

Downes will review her progress at yearly court hearings, but advised lawyers that if they learn of changes in her condition, he wants to be notified immediately.

She must continue to be in remission and not show signs of decompensation, Downes said. He advised Kebede on Wednesday that he could send her to Western State Hospital for up to 10 years if she doesn’t follow the rules.

She quietly said she understood.

Kebede’s case was one of several in 2014 that Snohomish County public defenders used to point to the problems at Western State Hospital.

Kebede was released from jail three months after her arrest because of long delays at the hospital. At the time, Kebede wasn’t able to assist with her own defense. She was hallucinating at the jail and catatonic during at least one hearing. She reportedly also quit eating.

Snohomish County Superior Court Judge Bruce Weiss released her from jail Oct. 13, 2014, saying that her constitutional rights were being violated as she languished in jail awaiting significant mental health treatment.

It took the hospital 82 days to admit her for restoration treatment.

Weiss’ decision came on the heels of a federal lawsuit first filed by Snohomish County public defenders asking for relief for their mentally ill clients. The nonprofit advocacy group, Disability Rights Washington, quickly took over the lawsuit on behalf of inmates across the state. A federal judge last year ordered the state Department of Social and Health Services to cut wait times at the state’s two psychiatric hospitals or face sanctions.

That continues to be an ongoing battle.

U.S. District Court Judge Marsha Pechman had given DSHS until Jan. 2 to admit patients within seven days of judges’ orders for restoration treatment.

Kevin Quigley, the department secretary, testified last week in Snohomish County Superior Court that the state would need until May to meet the federal’s judge’s mandate. The state is planning to open beds at secure treatment centers it is developing near Centralia and Yakima.

DSHS on Monday filed a motion asking for more time. State lawmakers allocated $40 million in July to meet the mandate but a federal audit that cited serious safety concerns at Western thwarted efforts to open more beds at the hospital, the state has said.

Diana Hefley: 425-339-3463; hefley@heraldnet.com. Twitter: @dianahefley.

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