Experts weigh mental health concerns in sibling murders

Experts weigh mental health concerns in sibling murders
Experts weigh mental health concerns in sibling murders

Mental health is one of the major concerns we hear more and more about when horrific crimes occur. In one of the latest Bay Area tragedies, a woman has been charged with murdering her sister, and their family believes mental illness played a role.

Charee Howard, an accomplished physician who is actively involved in her community, is, as her brother describes it, “sweet as cotton candy.” But now, she’s in the Pinellas County jail charged with the murder of her older sister, Sherry Lynn .

Her family blamed mental illness.

Psychologist Dr Valerie McLean was not involved in the case but has worked on such cases.

“I work in eight different counties in Florida, and I’m on the court-appointed list for what we call court-appointed competency assessments,” she said. “Meaning, is the defendant capable of interacting with counsel and reasonably handling information about their case?”

Howard’s family is dealing with the loss of Lynn, but they also worry about Howard hurting himself in prison.

McLean offered this insight. “I’m totally concerned about what’s going on with the family. Because I’m in it too, if you will. I go into those prisons. I go into those cell side observations when they’re under what we call psych observation, and they’re in turtle suits. They say It’s a green turtle suit with velcro, and they don’t give them sharps because they want to protect them.”

Sherry Lynn is on the left and Charee Howard is on the right. (Photo courtesy of Michael Hobbs)

In this case, whether or not there was a mental health issue, it was done, McLean said.

Howard’s family said their concerns were intensified when marshals said she was uncooperative during her first court hearing on Wednesday. McClain said their concerns were justified.

“I can already tell you, I’ve told you, I have questions about this case, especially given the history and closeness of the sisters and the response from the community,” she said. “So, the lawyers involved are only going to the first court appearance, and if the person doesn’t even have the capacity to go there, then there are mental health concerns.”

McLean stressed that it would not give a pass to anyone charged with crimes such as murder.

“If the attorney or family and other parties believe that an untreated or untreated underlying mental health disorder prevents the person from understanding the wrongfulness of their actions or consequences, then it can be considered a mental health defense,” she said. “Now you could be mentally ill and kill with intent.”

Determining whether a suspect is competent is key, she said. If there is a problem, it is even more important to figure out how to treat mental illness.

In that case, she said the family will have to wait for an update from the appointed attorney or from Howard himself.

All of this happened as they prepared to bury her sister.

So far, the family has told us they have not been updated on Charee’s condition. She remains on trial days after her initial arrest because of her status at the prison, the sheriff’s office said Thursday.

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