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Mentally ill New Orleans man charged with fatally beating parents may be in legal limbo forever

The Advocate - 4/17/2018

April 17--Almost a decade after authorities arrested him on a charge of beating his parents to death at their Uptown New Orleans home, Michael Singreen heard something recently that horrified him.

Singreen, deemed mentally unfit for trial, has been living in a group home in Baton Rouge. And during a meeting there, he learned of a man in his mid-50s who had been living in such facilities since he was 19.

Singreen, who turned 38 last week, wrote a letter to the judge handling his case, pleading to be allowed to contact his two children, a 14-year-old son and 11-year-old daughter.

"What I want is to be allowed to go to a supervised apartment where I can have Internet access, so I can tell my kids that I never forgot about them and that I never stopped loving them," he wrote.

"There's also a lot of information that I want to pass on to them, like how to do upside-down push-ups off of a wall so that my son ... won't be so skinny and weak when he goes to school. ... I am just terrified that I'm going to miss their high school years, when they need the most help."

However, Singreen's worst-case scenario is also the most likely one, said his attorney, Dwight Doskey.

Doskey has been told by a forensic psychiatrist that there's no sign Singreen will ever be able to help Doskey defend him. That means, constitutionally, he may never face trial.

Singreen remains trapped in a legal limbo: neither convicted nor acquitted, but also never free.

Involuntarily confined to his group home, he remains under round-the-clock supervision.

"Unless that home closes for some reason, he may very well stay there until he dies," Doskey said.

If Singreen never regains the competence needed to stand trial, he would be far from alone.

In Louisiana, at least 445 defendants are deemed "irrestorably incompetent." More than 200 of them live in group homes. The rest are at the state's forensic mental hospital in East Feliciana Parish, according to Louisiana health officials.

Singreen's particularly macabre case is a reminder about how drawn out the legal process can be for defendants with severe mental issues.

Authorities said Singreen was an alcoholic who was going through a separation and had recently been discharged from an Illinois mental hospital when he battered his 66-year-old father, Harry, and 67-year-old mother, Shirley, both lawyers, inside their home in the 200 block of Audubon Boulevard on Jan. 25, 2009.

Harry Singreen died at the scene. Shirley Singreen died at a hospital a few weeks later.

Michael's younger sister, Elizabeth, witnessed the attack and called 911.

Michael Singreen at one point confessed to beating his parents because he was "tired of them," police said. He also tried to plead guilty at one of his first court appearances before he'd even been indicted. But Criminal District Court Judge Laurie White later ruled that prosecutors could never present the confession to a jury.

After he was sent to the state's forensic mental hospital to receive psychiatric treatment for several months, White deemed Singreen mentally capable of standing trial on murder charges. He entered a dual plea of not guilty and not guilty by reason of insanity.

But Singreen's medication was changed after he was returned to New Orleans' jail, Doskey said, and he slid back into mental incompetence.

Prosecutors declined comment on the case this week.

Yet the letter from Singreen to White that was filed into the record early this month gives perhaps the starkest glimpse into the delusion that Doskey says is preventing Singreen from assisting in his own defense, even after he was moved from the state's mental hospital to the less restrictive Baton Rouge group home.

In the letter, Singreen says he believes it was New Orleans police who beat his parents to death because he told them his mother had molested him as a child.

Though that potentially hints at a motive for his attack on his parents, nothing in the public record suggests that Harry or Shirley Singreen was ever formally accused of abuse or investigated on such allegations.

Further complicating the case, Elizabeth is no longer around to testify about what happened the night her parents were killed or whether anything beyond her brother's mental illness led to the slayings.

In 2016, at age 34, Elizabeth Singreen Racina stabbed her husband multiple times at their home in northwest Louisiana before he fatally shot her in self-defense, authorities said.

Michael Singreen's letter hints at how much he admired his sister, who earned French and history degrees from Tulane University while living with bipolar disorder and autism.

By contrast, his letter points out, it took him six years to earn three years' worth of college credits.

"The only cure for my depression is my kids," Singreen wrote. "My children brought me so much happiness that they actually cured my depression."

Yet Singreen is unlikely to regain a presence in his children's lives.

A restraining order prohibits him from contacting the children's mother, who ultimately divorced him. His psychiatrist, Dr. Sanket Vyas, has repeatedly said the 38-year-old remains dangerous to others and is gravely disabled.

As Vyas notes in the court record, Singreen is "in the least restrictive environment in which he can safely be housed."

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(c)2018 The Advocate, Baton Rouge, La.

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