By Diana Hefley Herald Writer
EVERETT — A Sultan woman has spent most of the past eight months locked up in a mental health hospital after she was found standing in the middle of the highway holding her dog’s severed head.
Kimberly Wetzel, 48, was cleared for release from the county jail Thursday after she admitted that she’d decapitated her dog in May. Her attorney told the judge that Wetzel would leave the jail without having anywhere to go.
She also won’t be under the supervision of the courts or the state Department of Corrections.
Wetzel has been diagnosed with an unspecified psychotic disorder. She was prescribed medications during her time at Western State Hospital. Twice doctors determined that Wetzel wasn’t able to assist in her own defense.
In January, a clinical psychologist determined that Wetzel had learned enough through classes at the hospital to understand the charge against her and could now assist her attorney.
Wetzel agreed to plead guilty to first-degree animal cruelty. In return, prosecutors agreed to recommend a six-month sentence with credit for time served. The maximum sentence under the law was up to a year in jail.
“I’m a Christian, and I have to tell the truth,” Wetzel said, when the judge asked her if anyone was forcing her to plead guilty.
Defense attorney Rachel Forde said she had hoped to persuade prosecutors to allow Wetzel to plead guilty to a lesser charge so that she would be under the supervision of a probation officer in the district courts.
“This is another system failure, and one that could have been handled much better by a mental health court,” Forde said.
The county secured funds to launch a special court this year to handle some misdemeanor cases involving defendants living with a mental illness. The mental court would offer more supervision for people, including weekly hearings with a judge to monitor their progress. Proponents say a mental health court could help those living with mental illnesses get treatment and housing.
Wetzel’s then-husband told police in May that his wife has suffered from mental health issues for years.
She was found in her bathrobe in the middle of U.S. 2. She was carrying the dog’s head wrapped in a towel. Her then-husband told deputies that he had been working on their property when he heard his wife screaming.
He saw her in the middle of the highway and attempted to get her out of the road. He soon realized what his wife was holding. He became so upset that he wasn’t able to assist a passerby who had stopped to help Wetzel.
Fire crews eventually took Wetzel to Valley General Hospital in Monroe.
Deputies found the rest of the dog inside the couple’s bathroom. The dog had extensive injuries all over. Police believe Wetzel used household scissors to kill the dog, a 4-year-old mixed breed, named Conan.
Wetzel initially was involuntarily committed to the state hospital. Officials there notified prosecutors in July that they were going to release Wetzel.
Prosecutors charged her with a felony and had her moved to the jail.
Twice a judge ruled that Wetzel wasn’t competent to stand trial. She remained at the hospital for six months, undergoing treatment. Late last month, a psychologist concluded that Wetzel could assist with her own defense, the main criteria for determining competency.
The doctor noted that Wetzel is a low to moderate risk to for future dangerous behavior. She noted, however, that if Wetzel discontinues her medication, it is unclear if she’ll be able to take care of herself.
Superior Court Judge George Bowden agreed to the lawyer’s recommendation and signed orders authorizing Wetzel’s release. The judge told the woman he was glad that she was feeling better and urged her to continue treatment.
“This is over for all of you today. I will live with it for the rest of my life,” Wetzel said at Thursday’s hearing.
Diana Hefley: 425-339-3463; firstname.lastname@example.org.