MADERA — Wearing “Justice for Bonnie Hale” T-shirts, ten of Hale’s family members filed into Department 22 at the Madera County Superior Courthouse on Monday morning. The group, whose T-shirts were also emblazoned with Hale’s picture, were hoping to see the wheels of justice start spinning a little faster.
But at Monday’s hearing, the Hale family learned they’ll have to make at least three more trips back to Madera before Mary O’Keefe, the woman accused of killing Bonnie Hale, may finally face a jury of her peers.
On Monday, Judge Dale Blea set a Jan. 21, 2020 trial date for O’Keefe. But she is scheduled to be back in court Sept. 16 to review psychiatric reports from three different doctors who’ve examined her recently — and then again on Jan. 14 of next year in order to confirm the trial can begin the following week.
After today’s hearing, neither Melissa Baloian, O’Keefe’s attorney, nor Deputy District Attorney Brooke Bergman would comment on the likelihood of plea bargain deal being struck before the 2020 trial date. But the possibility of a plea deal is reportedly still on the table.
“I’m afraid if we don’t set this for January, with the number of murder trials we’ve got coming up, it will just get pushed back further,” Judge Blea said Monday during O’Keefe’s 10-minute court appearance.
At Monday’s hearing, O’Keefe spoke briefly with her attorney but said nothing during the proceeding — which was actually interrupted for nearly half an hour while the lawyers attempted to work out a trial date.
O’Keefe, 65, was ushered into the windowless courtroom in handcuffs, wearing glasses, a dark green prison uniform and bright orange plastic shoes. She mostly stared straight ahead and showed little emotion during the hearing. But several times, she did look in the direction of the row of spectators wearing T-shirts bearing Bonnie Hale’s image.
A victim’s advocate also sat with Hale family members during Monday’s latest legal proceedings.
O’Keefe, a former North Fork resident, has been held without bond since her arrest in December 2016.
On Nov. 30 of last year, she appeared at the Bass Lake Courthouse and changed her original ‘not guilty’ plea to a plea of ‘not guilty by reason of insanity.’
Almost a year later, and after the Bass Lake Courthouse’s closure, Bonnie Hale’s relatives continue to make the somber trip, now to Madera, to witness O’Keefe’s court appearances.
Hale’s daughter Tanya and almost a dozen other family members were clearly disappointed by the outcome of Monday’s latest legal chapter. Since the case first began more than two and a half years ago, they have attended more than a dozen of O’Keefe’s court appearances.
Bonnie Hale was seventy-six years old at the time of her death. A mother of six and former member of the North Fork Rancheria Tribal Council, Bonnie was a well-known and beloved figure in the North Fork community.
O’Keefe, also a North Fork resident at the time of the 2016 incident, is being representing by Baloian, a private, court-appointed lawyer who used to be a deputy district attorney in the Fresno County District Attorney’s office.
The case began on the morning of Dec. 17, 2016, after MCSO investigators were called to Bonnie Hale’s residence off Road 225 after her son found his mother deceased on the back patio.
At about the same time, MCSO deputies were also dispatched on a welfare check regarding O’Keefe, who lived in the vicinity and was reportedly showing signs of having been in a physical fight, according to an MCSO report.
O’Keefe was subsequently arrested and charged with first degree murder, with an elder abuse enhancement.