Insanity murder trials costing SLO County thousands
April 15, 2013
A recent string of insanity pleas in murder cases has cost San Luis Obispo County thousands of dollars. [Tribune]
Until early 2012, no murder defendant in San Luis Obispo County had used the insanity plea in more than 15 years. In a little more than a year since, four insanity murder trials have occurred in the county, costing the court system as much as $70,000 in psychiatric witness fees alone.
In the most recent insanity murder trial, the Public Defender’s Office spent $51,128 on psychiatric witness testimony to defend Christopher Shumey, who shot his mother, Karen Shumey, to death in 2011. The District Attorney’s Office spent $17,200 on psychiatric witness fees during the trial.
The Andrew Downs trial, which concluded in February 2012, cost the court system a total of $61,025 in psychiatric witness fees alone. Downs was the only defendant in the recent string of insanity plea murder trials to escape conviction.
One expert witness, who testified in all four of the recent insanity murder trials, billed the county a combined total of more than $85,000 for his testimony. Kris Mohandie billed the county $17,200 for the Shumey case, $19,749 for the insanity murder trial of Kenneth Cockrell and $31,200 for the insanity trial of John Woody.
Mohandie, who charges $450 an hour, planned to testify for the prosecution in the Downs case, but concluded that Downs was insane and testified for the defense instead. Still, Mohandie charged the District Attorney’s Office $19,100 for his work on the Downs case.
Chief Deputy District Attorney Jerret Gran told the Tribune that Mohandie is worth his price.
“If I’m sitting on a jury and somebody’s talking about something that I don’t know about, and I want to accept him as a witness, I want to see a great education, but I also want to see experience,” Gran said.
San Luis Obispo Superior Court has a $17.8 million budget. The Dystiny Myers murder case, which included five defendants, just cost the court more than $1 million.
In a February letter to Vice President Joe Biden opposing new gun control measures, Sheriff Ian Parkinson noted how the recent string of mental illness related murders in the county is costing taxpayers.
“Many of the homicides in my county, over the past few years, have been related to mental illness,” Parkinson wrote. “I believe that it is very clear that we must address and put more attention to the mentally ill and the mental health systems in this country.”