A confidential report recommends that Sheryl Lynn Massip be confined to a psychiatric institution for at least 6 months to evaluate whether she has recovered from a psychotic illness that contributed to the killing of her infant son, officials said Monday.
The report, completed last week by county health officials, will help Superior Court Judge Robert R. Fitzgerald determine how best to proceed when the 24-year-old Massip returns to his courtroom on Friday, almost 2 years after she ran over her son in the family car.
The report’s conclusion may hurt efforts by Massip’s attorney, who contends she is now sane, to spare the former Anaheim housewife any further confinement. Massip was evaluated on an out-patient basis last month by county specialists.
Massip said in an interview that the prospect of 6 months in confinement “doesn’t scare me. I’ve learned to try and take each day one at a time, because I’ve had to live that way now for a while.”
Last year, Fitzgerald threw out a jury’s verdict that found Massip guilty of murder and ruled that she was not guilty by reason of insanity. The judge held that she was suffering at the time from postpartum psychosis, a temporary disorder that is thought to cause delusions, hallucinations and even violence in about 3 of every 1,000 new mothers.
Massip testified that she heard voices telling her to “put (her 6-week-old son) out of its misery” shortly before she first tried to throw the child into oncoming traffic, then hit him over the head with a blunt object and finally ran him over with her car on April 29, 1987. She then stuffed the body in a trash can and told police that the boy had been kidnaped.
Under Fitzgerald’s finding of insanity, Massip would routinely be ordered to undergo a 6-month examination, probably at Patton State Hospital, to determine whether she should be incarcerated for up to 11 years in a mental institution.
But defense attorney Milton C. Grimes argued in a recent interview that the unusual nature of Massip’s case--which has drawn national attention to the issue of postpartum psychosis--justifies abandoning standard criminal insanity procedures.
“Sheryl is not crazy today and I see no reason why she should have to be punished any further,” Grimes said.
Deputy Dist. Atty. Tom Borris, pleased by the county’s preliminary finding, said: “This is a favorable recommendation because (county personnel) followed the penal code.
“But as far as what’s going to happen Friday, I’ve learned not to expect anything in this case. All I know is what the law says--that she should be sent away for 6 months of tests.”
Although Massip could under Fitzgerald’s ruling be confined to a mental facility for up to 11 years, both the prosecution and the defense agree that her actual incarceration will likely be far shorter than that because of her improved mental condition today. Massip’s family members say that they have seen a dramatic improvement in her mental health in recent months. Her bouts with depression are far more infrequent, they say, and hormonal treatments and counseling have helped her eating and sleeping patterns, as well as her physical condition.
County health professionals, while making no finding on Massip’s overall sanity, noted in their report to Fitzgerald that she now appears neat and well-groomed and her thought, speech and judgment all appear normal, according to an official familiar with the report who asked anonymity.
Frank Madrigal, program manager for the county’s correctional mental health division, refused to discuss the county’s findings, except to confirm that the report on Massip’s case had been completed.
Borris said he believed the county’s recommendation was mandated by its understanding of the law, rather than based on an analysis of Massip’s current mental state and the need for future treatment.