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State Objects to Release of Mother Who Killed Toddler

26-May-2014

In 2003, a young mother waded across the Spring River near Quapaw as her 17-month-old clung to her. At some point, Tony Elizabeth Torres grew tired and pushed her toddler away from her, allowing the child to drown as his terrified older brother screamed for help from the opposite bank. When she was arrested, she told authorities, "God told me to do it."

Torres, who holds a Master's degree in psychology and who had worked as a counselor for troubled youth, had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder. Drug tests taken following the incident revealed the presence of lithium in her system. Lithium is used to treat mood disorders, and in particular, used to treat the manic phases of bipolar disorder marked by aggression, hyperactivity, lack of impulse control, and poor judgement.

She was found not guilty by reason of insanity and ordered to be hospitalized in the Oklahoma Forensic Center in Vinita under the supervision and control of the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services (ODMHSAS). The Oklahoma Forensic Center houses individuals who have been declared mentally incompetent to stand trial and those who have been found not guilty by reason of insanity.

Since her hospitalization, Torres has made a number of requests for varying degrees of release. She requested day passes to receive treatment at a nearby facility, and in 2010, she received a day pass to attend the funeral of her older son, who died in an electrocution accident some seven years after he witnessed the drowning death of his baby brother.

The following year, Torres was released from the Oklahoma Forensic Center to a  halfway house outside of Ottawa County. Ottawa County District Judge Robert Haney said in 2011 that Torres was no longer a threat to the public, and that her release to a halfway house was not equivalent to her release from custody: "She is still under the control of the state Department of Mental Health. She is not allowed to be unsupervised with children."

At every request for release, the state of Oklahoma and Ottawa County district attorneys have protested her release. Now, as officials consider her release from ODMHSAS custody, they again object to her release. On Tuesday, the state filed an objection to Torres's release. The following day, the objection and the judge's order regarding the woman's release were sealed.

Determining whether someone with a specific mental health issue can be safely released from custody is a often a difficult decision. It is unjust to keep someone under institutional control if he or she is no longer a threat; however, some mental health conditions are only kept in check as long as the person with the disorder continues to take his or her medication. For example, an acute schizophrenic episode has a great likelihood of recurrence if a person does not continue with treatment. According to the Treatment Advocacy Center, "It is critical that people with schizophrenia stay in treatment even after recovering from an acute episode. About 80 percent of those who stop taking their medications after an acute episode will have a relapse within one year, whereas only 30 percent of those who continue their medications will experience a relapse in the same time period."

In a Florida case, prosecutors are hoping that a man declared incompetent to stand trial for the murder of his wife will now, 16 years later, be held competent. Doctors say Bobby McGee's mental health can be improved through a cocktail of Haldol Decanoate, Seroquel, Cogentin and other drugs, and a judge has ordered that those medications be administered to McGee by force if necessary. However, there is concern that his "chemically induced sanity" will end once he is transferred from a mental health facility to the county jail, where there are neither the facilities nor equipment to forcibly administer medication.

The insanity defense is seldom used and seldom effective. However, insanity and incompetency are very real issues in the criminal justice system, and effectively balancing justice in these situations is never an easy task.



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