BASS LAKE — Family members of Bonnie Hale, who was killed in North Fork on Dec. 17, 2016, fought to control their emotions as Judge Charles Wieland handed down his ruling in Bass Lake Superior Court this afternoon, as to whether the woman accused in her death is competent to stand trial for murder.
Mary O’Keefe, now 64, was arrested shortly after Bonnie Hale’s son found his mother deceased on the patio of her home on Road 225 last December.
Hale’s family members have been attending court proceedings on nearly a monthly basis for over a year, as four different doctors conducted psychiatric evaluations of O’Keefe to determine if she is mentally competent to assist in her defense.
Today, three of those doctors took the stand to share their findings.
Dr. Adrian Della Porta, testifying for the defense, said that when he examined O’Keefe on Jan. 7, 2017, she was in jail and Department of Corrections records indicated she had been screaming and yelling, had severe body odor, wasn’t flushing her toilet, and was refusing to be locked down in her cell.
The doctor also testified that he had been told that O’Keefe had twice been taken in on a 5150 (an involuntary 72-hour hold for mental evaluation) and had been diagnosed with Alzheimers/dementia. He determined that O’Keefe was not competent to assist with her own defense.
Dr. Robert Taylor examined O’Keefe on June 2 and again on June 23, 2017, and reported that she was taking care of herself, practicing good hygiene, and was able to answer all his questions, understood what was going on, and was able to function in a rational manner and communicate with her attorney.
Both doctors addressed questions about the defendant’s use of alcohol, marijuana and methamphetamine. O’Keefe told them she had used meth from the age of 45 until about 50, and had snorted meth about twice a week in the several months leading up to the death of Bonnie Hale.
After both sides had presented their case, the judge said that his job in this proceeding was to decide whether the defendant is mentally competent to stand trial.
“That is the only purpose of this proceeding,” said Judge Wieland. “We’re not here to consider whether the defendant is guilty or not guilty of any crime, or whether she was sane or insane at the time that any alleged crime was committed.”
The defendant is mentally competent to stand trial if she can do all of the following:
- Understand the nature and purpose of the criminal proceedings against her;
- Assist, in a rational manner, her attorney in presenting her defense;
- Understand her own status and condition in the criminal proceeding.
Judge Wieland noted that though there was testimony about the defendant having been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and/or dementia, there was no evidence presented to support that assertion. There was also no evidence presented as to the reasons for her 5150 holds.
“The only evidence I have before me is the evidence itself,” said the judge, “and the only reasonable conclusion is that Ms. O’Keefe is competent to stand trial.”
The judge set the date for O’Keefe’s preliminary hearing for Jan. 2, 2018.