Competency questions, insanity pleas involved in multiple high-profile Butler County cases

Credit: Journal News

Brittany Gosney and James Hamilton appear in court in connection to the death of James Hutchinson

Credit: Journal News

The comments of a Middletown mother accused of running over and killing her 6-year-old son in February caught the attention of her attorney, prompting him to ask a judge to order a forensic psychological evaluation to determine her competency for trial.

Brittany Gosney, 29, and James Hamilton, 43, were indicted March 5 on a combined 31-count indictment for the slaying of 6-year-old James Hutchinson on Feb. 26 in rural Preble County and the disposal of his body days later in the Ohio River near Lawrenceburg, Indiana.

Ultimately, Gosney was found competent based on the psychological report, and defense attorney David Washington withdrew a tandem plea of not guilty by reason of insanity for Gosney.

Brittany Gosney was ruling competent to stand trial for allegedly killing her son during a hearing Monday in Butler County Common Pleas Court. NICK GRAHAM / Staff
Brittany Gosney was ruling competent to stand trial for allegedly killing her son during a hearing Monday in Butler County Common Pleas Court. NICK GRAHAM / Staff

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Competency evaluations and evaluations for a not guilty by reason of insanity (NGRI) are ordered for hundreds of defendants in Butler County courts annually. Few result in an NGRI or incompetent findings, and the legal definitions are very different.

At a hearing in Middletown Municipal Court, Gosney said she had a learning disability and did not understand what the judge was telling her about the charges. For Washington, that raised a competency question. He also wanted her evaluated for NGRI.

“Competency for trial is about their ability to understand the proceedings and assist in their defense,” Washington said. If a person is found incompetent, it is possible they can be restored to competency with treatment and their case will then be litigated.

Butler County Prosecutor Michael Gmoser said questions of competence can come from the defense, prosecutors or a judge who observes a defendant during proceedings. It is important to all sides to make sure the accused understands the defendant charges and can help with a defense.

In some cases, the defense may disagree with the first evaluation and they can request a second. If those evaluations are different, a third can be ordered by a judge before a ruling is made.

But that’s not the case with NGRI. The person may be restored to function mentally with treatment, but they have been found not guilty because they did not understand the wrongness of their actions when the crime was committed and there will be no trial.

“You could say he got away with murder, but it’s because as the law reads he was mentally incapable of understanding the wrongfulness of his actions. In other words, did he know the difference between right or wrong at the time the offense was committed,” Washington said. “Any time anybody does anything to hid their actions after committing the offense, pretty much you know they must have understood the wrongfulness of their actions because they are trying to hide what the did.”

Melynda Cook Howard, attorney for a woman found NGRI for gunning down a Miami University professor in 2002, said the bar is high in an insanity case that must be presented a trial.

ExploreHe decapitated his wife 29 years ago, but said he’s no longer mentally ill. A court disagreed.

Tonda Lynn Ansley was found not guilty by reason of insanity for fatally shooting Sherry Lee Corbett, 55, her landlord and employer, on July 27, 2002, just blocks from Corbett’s home in the Dayton Lane Historic District where both women lived.

“The law states at the time of the commission of the offence the person did not know as a result of a severe mental defect or disease the wrongfulness of the person’s act,” Cook Howard said. “And there has to be proof to back it up.”

“For instance, in Tonda Ansley’s case, the doctors who evaluated her all agreed that she was NGRI. She didn’t believe it was wrong to kill ‘the professor,’ as she called her, because in her mind she believed they were harming her and her child therefore she was protecting them.”

Ansley is now medicated and has conditional release privileges from the treatment facility.

Raymond Tanner talks with his attorney Greg Howard, who is now a Butler County Common Pleas judge, during a hearing Sept. 25, 2009, where he was ordered to remain under court control by Butler County Common Pleas Judge Andrew Nastoff. Tanner was found not guilty by reason of insanity after decapitating his wife on Valentine's Day in 1990. FILE
Raymond Tanner talks with his attorney Greg Howard, who is now a Butler County Common Pleas judge, during a hearing Sept. 25, 2009, where he was ordered to remain under court control by Butler County Common Pleas Judge Andrew Nastoff. Tanner was found not guilty by reason of insanity after decapitating his wife on Valentine's Day in 1990. FILE

Ansley like others, including Raymond Tannner, who was found NGRI after killing his wife on Valentine’s Day 1990, are monitored by the court and hearings are held every couple of years.

After an argument in their Fairfield home, Tanner sawed off his wife’s head, put the head on their bed, the walked to the police station in bloody clothes to admit the the slaying.

Tanner, who psychologists say suffered acute schizophrenia and was having paranoid delusions that rendered him incapable of distinguishing right from wrong at the time of his wife’s death, has been released from a mental health facility in 1996. He continues to follow specific treatment provisions set by the court.

“No, they didn’t get away with murder because they didn’t commit a crime in the first place, as far as the law is concerned. Now as far as the perceptions of the general population – they will always be branded a a murderer. They will always be seen as someone who got away with it, ” Gmoser said.

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