Thursday, January 8, 2004

Killer to stay in tight security

Judge rejects plea of insane woman

By Janice Morse
The Cincinnati Enquirer

HAMILTON - Tonda Ansley is staying in a maximum-security mental hospital - at least for now.

Following a two-hour hearing in Butler County Common Pleas Court, Judge Keith Spaeth on Wednesday rejected a psychiatrist's recommendation that Ansley, who was found not guilty by reason of insanity in the 2002 slaying of Miami University professor Sherry Corbett, be transferred to a locked, lower-security facility.

"It's very difficult to find that anything has changed with respect to Ms. Ansley's condition," Spaeth said. He noted Ansley continues to suffer from mental illness, presents "a substantial risk to others," and, just a year and a half ago, "Ms. Ansley shot and killed a respected member of this community." Therefore, Spaeth ordered that she remain at the Timothy B. Moritz Center, a locked facility surrounded with barbed wire, in Columbus.

Assistant Prosecutor Craig Hedric said, "I think it's the right decision." But Ansley's attorney, Melynda Cook-Reich, said she and her client are considering appealing the judge's order. "It's contrary to the only evidence that was presented," Cook-Reich said.

That evidence consisted of testimony of David Soehner, a forensic psychiatrist, and his 19-page report. Soehner said Ansley was showing fewer signs of mental illness as she continues therapy and medication.

Ansley was diagnosed with "delusional disorder, persecutory type;" she believed Corbett and others were conspiring to control her mind as in the movie The Matrix. Shortly after Corbett's slaying, Ansley told police she only regretted that she had been unable to kill the other three people on her "hit list."

But Ansley told Soehner: "I've been praying a lot, asking God and Sherry to forgive me...I feel terrible I took Sherry's life for no reason at all."

Soehner recommended Ansley be moved to a mental hospital with fewer guards, fewer staff members and no barbed wire. Ohio law requires that mentally ill criminal defendants be kept in the "least-restrictive setting" possible. But Spaeth said none of the factors Soehner listed would affect Ansley's comfort. Therefore, Spaeth said he felt the change would result only in an increased risk of her escaping.

Further, Spaeth pointed out that Ansley's mental condition deteriorated previously when she was moved from a mental hospital to the county jail. He said he was concerned her condition would deteriorate again if she were moved to another setting.

State law requires the court to review Ansley's placement in two years - but placement-review hearings could happen sooner if she successfully appeals Spaeth's decision or if her doctors find her mental status changes significantly.


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