News Article Details

In 2005, a mentally ill man killed three family members. He's been OK'd for outpatient treatment

San Diego Union-Tribune - 8/3/2018

Aug. 03--Michael Monroe Brown killed his stepfather first, swinging his aluminum baseball bat after the 70-year-old man opened the door of his Mira Mesa home on March 20, 2005.

His 69-year-old mother was next. Then came his 44-year-old brother.

He also killed two dogs -- their Pomeranian and his own Doberman pinscher.

In 2007, a judge found Brown had been legally insane when he went on his killing spree. Brown was committed to a mental hospital for life without parole -- or until his sanity was restored.

Now, 13 years after the killings, Brown is being released from the hospital into an outpatient program. Doctors treating him say he is no longer a danger to himself or others.

A San Diego judge agreed earlier this month to allow Brown to enter an outpatient program, where the now 61-year-old can continue his treatment in a supervised setting.

Brown's ex-wife Jennifer Barker, who was married to him at the time of the killings, desperately hoped Brown would remain hospitalized around the clock.

"How can he get out?" she said. "He killed three people."

Not guilty by reason of insanity

After the killings, Brown called 911, identified himself and confessed. The San Diego man has been in custody -- either in jail or a hospital -- since that day.

Brown's then-defense attorney said his client suffered from schizophrenia and was having a psychotic delusion, believing he was acting on a command from God.

The self-employed house-painter pleaded guilty to first-degree murder and special-circumstance allegations, including lying in wait. He also admitted to animal cruelty.

But his sanity at the time of the crime remained at issue.

In 2007, after a two-week bench trial, a San Diego Superior Court judge found Brown had been legally insane -- meaning in part that he was unable to distinguish between right and wrong -- when he killed his family.

The judge ordered Brown committed to the hospital for three life terms.

But state law allows people found not guilty by reason of insanity to petition the court for release before the end of their term.

To be allowed into the conditional release program, the patient's doctors and a judge have to find that the patient no longer poses a danger to himself or others because of a diagnosed mental illness.

Brown met that criteria.

Often, in less serious cases, the petition process is handled through reports and paperwork. But in this case, Deputy District Attorney Robert Stein wanted a hearing.

"My concern was this guy killed three people, real brutal crimes," Stein said last week. "And my position was that the doctors should have to testify."

Two of Brown's treating doctors -- a psychologist and a psychiatrist -- took the stand in a San Diego courtroom in mid-July and spoke in support of Brown's release into the outpatient program.

One of them, Stein said, began to cry as she testified, saying she does not make such decisions lightly. She also said she rarely makes recommendations for release.

Stein has had prior dealings with both doctors, and said he finds them to be credible. And in this case, he said, "I thought their opinion was reasonable."

"I know it's difficult to accept when somebody has killed three people, but this is what the law provides," Stein said.

The representative of the conditional-release program in Solano County also testified in support of moving Brown into outpatient treatment -- that support, too, is a necessity.

Prosecutor Stein said it is rare to see the release -- even conditional release -- of people found not guilty of murder by reason of insanity.

Although Brown was OK'd for conditional release, the judge did not declare that Brown's sanity has been restored.

Should his sanity ever be deemed restored, he would be a free man.

From hospital to supervised release

Since his conviction, Brown has been at Patton State Hospital in San Bernardino County, a facility that primarily serves mentally ill patients sent by the courts. It is run by the Department of State Hospitals.

A State Hospitals spokesman said earlier this month that privacy laws prevent him from discussing individual patients or when one might be released.

Brown will be placed in a conditional release program known as CONREP. He will be in Solano County, located between San Francisco and Sacramento.

He is part of a small universe of people in the state hospitals who have earned their way into the conditional release program. About 630 people were a part of the program across all of California in the fiscal year 2016-2017, according to a Department of State Hospitals' report.

About 15 of them were in the Solano County program where Brown will go.

In fiscal year 2016-2017, a total of 151 people were discharged from the conditional release program. A discharge does not mean the person is free, it simply means they have left the program, whether by successful completion of its requirements, revocation of their release or death.

Roughly half of those discharged -- 74 people -- were those who had initially landed in a state hospital after they had been found not guilty of a crime by reason of insanity, according to a report measuring patient outcomes.

Of those 74 patients, 27 were discharged after a restoration of competency or sanity.

That same report notes that on average, people spent just shy of four years in the program before they were discharged. The report is silent as to the average length-of-stay for those who eventually have their sanity restored.

The conditions tied to each outpatient's treatment are individually tailored, and can include a host of services, including therapy, substance abuse screening and psychological assessments.

Brown will be in a board-and-care facility, and will get intensive supervision. Any problems could see him sent back to Patton.

Treatment, not punishment

Asked for comment, two public defense attorneys who have represented Brown -- Alejandro Balvaneda and Richard Gates -- provided a statement.

It reads, in part: "The purpose for committing Mr. Brown as an NGI (a person not guilty by reason of insanity), has always been to treat his severe mental illness, not to punish him. Mr. Brown's NGI commitment continues to protect him and society from potential dangerousness, as he continues to receive and benefit from treatment."

The attorneys also noted that Brown's doctors described him "as a model patient" and backed his release to supervised outpatient treatment.

"Therefore with the help of the community, Mr. Brown is not considered a danger to others while in the conditional release program," the statement reads.

Brown's then-wife was in the hospital when he murdered his family members. Now divorced from him, she said she fears she is not safe if he is released.

"Everybody is in a freaking panic," she said.

She is also bothered that, technically, she is not considered a victim under the law because it was not her family that was attacked, it was his. That means she doesn't get a formal notification regarding Brown's conditional release -- or even a photo of what he looks like now.

"It's a horror story," she said. "I just want to get it out there that society is screwed up. Killers have more rights than me."

teri.figueroa@sduniontribune.com

(760) 529-4945

Twitter: @TeriFigueroaUT

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UPDATES:

4:45 p.m. Aug. 3: This story was updated with the name of the judge that approved Brown's request for outpatient treatment. It was originally published 4 p.m.July 30.

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