Man who decapitated wife 32 years ago loses appeal for release from court supervision

Incident happened on Valentine’s Day in 1990 at the couple’s Fairfield home

An appeals court agreed with the ruling by a Butler County judge that a man who committed one of the county’s most notorious crimes but was found not guilty by reason of insanity will continue his required court control 32 years after decapitating his wife.

Raymond Tanner, 66, was in Butler County Common Pleas Court in October 2021 for a biennial review of the court’s requirement that he seek counseling as part of his conditional release.

After testimony from three psychologists, Judge Jennifer McElfresh ruled that Tanner’s court-ordered treatment continue. It will be reconsidered in November 2023.

Tanner appealed the judge’s decision to the 12th District Court of Appeals. On Monday, the appellate court unanimously upheld McElfresh’s decision, finding the denial did not violate Tanner’s due process rights and was supported by clear and convincing evidence.

On Valentine’s Day 1990, Tanner, a steakhouse meat cutter, killed his wife after an argument in their Fairfield home and sawed off her head. He put the head on their bed, then walked to the police station in bloody clothes and admitted to the slaying, according to news reports and court records.

In June 1990, Tanner was found criminally insane and to have been suffering from acute schizophrenia at the time of his wife’s death. He was having paranoid delusions that rendered him incapable of distinguishing right from wrong, according to doctors who did psychological evaluations shortly after the killing.

Tanner was released from a mental health facility in 1996, six years after he killed 21-year-old Maria Tanner.

Credit: NONE

Credit: NONE

After being housed in a mental facility, Tanner was released with conditional provisions that have continued to the present. Specifically, in 1996 he was required to have eight counseling sessions per year at a Dayton facility, as well as undergo two random drug screens per year.

Over the years, those reporting requirements have decreased, but Tanner has remained under court control. Tanner is now required to attend a therapy session with a counselor every four months.

Dr. Myron Fridman testified as the designated forensic monitor. He has evaluated Tanner multiple times in 12 years.

Fridman testified there has been some disagreement on a diagnosis of Tanner’s mental illness, but said a single episode of major depressive disorder appears to best fit his symptoms.

The doctor testified data suggests “that at least 60% of individuals with major depressive disorder, single episode can expect to have a second episode,” according to court documents.

Fridman recommended, as he had in prior reviews, that Tanner see a therapist, “not for treatment, but in interest of public safety” so the therapist would have “the opportunity to detect any symptoms that might indicate the onset of a second major depressive episode.”

In the same hearing, Dr. Jennifer O’Donnell, director of the Forensic Evaluation Services Center, said she interviewed Tanner for about 50 minutes in preparation for the review. She previously evaluated Tanner in 2015 and 2017.

O’Donnell was unable to offer a diagnosis as to Tanner’s original mental illness, but disagreed with Fridman’s diagnosis that Tanner’s mental illness was a depressive disorder.

The doctor said Tanner now admits the value of being able to periodically “engage in a therapy session with someone whom he can discuss personal feelings without judgment.”

O’Donnell testified that Tanner was in remission from some unspecified severe mental illness and “does not suffer from a severe mental illness or defect.”

She added, Tanner’s current theory is “that steroid use and stress caused him to decapitate his wife.”

During the most recent hearing, forensic psychologist Dr. Terrance Kukor testified for the defense. He interviewed Tanner twice in the spring of this year.

In his testimony, Kukor said the best predictor of future behavior is past behavior and “the severity and shocking nature of violence” in this case is “an obvious source of concern.”

But, Kukor said Tanner’s lack of violence over the past 30 years “bodes well from a risk-assessment perspective.”

Kukor said he did not observe any behavioral agitation during interviews with Tanner nor had Tanner’s family reported any concerning behavior.

However, during cross examination of Kukor by Assistant Prosecutor Jon Marshall, concerning the semantics of using the term “index offense” instead of “murder,” Tanner had an outburst stating “I am not on trial,” according to court records.

Kukor agreed with Fridman that the most accurate diagnosis of Tanner is a single episode of major depressive disorder. About 50% of people with the diagnosis have recurrent illness and are prone to have five lifetime episodes, Kukor said in his testimony.

McElfresh cited Tanner’s outburst in court, calling it “disturbing and erratic behavior to be further evidence of Tanner’s lack of insight into his illness” as well as Tanner’s negative attitude toward treatment and the inconsistent lack of diagnoses as reasons to continue court supervision.

“Indeed the court finds that there is no evidence to suggest why any remission occurred. Moreover, this court has no confidence that Tanner would continue with treatment to maintain any remissive state should his commitment be terminated,” McElfresh wrote in her decision.

The appeals court agreed, pointing to Tanner’s angry outburst in court during the 2021 hearing, opinions from the doctors that 50 to 60 percent of individuals with major depressive order can expect to have a more episodes and his history of defying the court’s order to engage in treatment as reasons for the court to continue oversight.

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