Olympia murder suspect not guilty by reason of insanity

Staff writerApril 18, 2014 

A 47-year-old Olympia woman was criminally insane when she beat 76-year-old Cha Su White to death at the Casa Madrona Apartments on Martin Way in October 2012, and therefore is not guilty of second-degree murder.

That's according to a judgment acquitting Corrin Kaufman of second-degree murder signed by Thurston County Superior Court James Dixon.

Cha Su White's homicide at Kaufman's hands was "an extremely brutal and violent attack that appears to be completely unprovoked," a prosecutor said during a 2012 court hearing.

Both White and Kaufman were tenants at the King County Housing Authority-managed Casa Madrona Apartments at the time.

The prosecutor in the case, Joseph Jackson, did not contest a defense motion to acquit Kaufman by reason of insanity, and Dixon entered the acquittal order in late February.

The acquittal order deeming Kaufman to be criminally insane committed her "to the care, custody and control" of Western State Hospital so "she may receive adequate care and individualized treatment" there, court papers state.

Longtime Thurston County prosecutor James Powers agreed that it is rare for a murder suspect to be acquitted for reasons of insanity - the last such case he can remember occurred in the late '80s.

White was working on a jigsaw puzzle in a common area of the apartment building on the afternoon of Oct. 26, 2012, when Kaufman, completely nude, bludgeoned her in the head with a chair, a police report states. She then smashed White's head into the floor eight times, as terrified onlookers watched.

Kaufman admitted to smoking methamphetamine prior to the attack - she also told a detective she "bashed" White's head in because "she was sin; she was a bomb," according to a police report.

In order to meet the legal definition of insanity, a criminal defendant must either have been unable to understand the nature of his or her actions at the time of the offense, or the defendant "didn't understand right from wrong," Powers said.

At the time of White's homicide, Kaufman had been admitted twice before to Western State Hospital - in 2008 for a 90-day commitment on the grounds of "grave disability" and again in 2009 for the same reasons, according to a mental health evaluation that was entered in the court file.

During Kaufman's 2009 Western State admission, she said, "I am president of the United States. I am Adam and Eve. Eve is Steve and Steve is my cousin. I am 800 years old. My son is a doctor. I think he is Dr. Spock," among other "ramblings," court papers state.

Kaufman was diagnosed in 2009 with bipolar disorder, and has "a history of polysubstance abuse," court papers state.

Both a psychologist hired by the defense and one hired by the prosecuting attorney's office issued written opinions regarding whether Kaufman could have been considered criminally insane that the time of White's murder.

Defense psychologist Dr. Indra Finch wrote that at the time of White's homicide, Kaufman's "untreated mental illness" impaired her ability to tell the difference between right and wrong.

The psychologist hired by the prosecutor stated that it was unlikely that Kaufman understood she was committing an act that was legally wrong when she attacked White because "she indicated she was trying to save the world from a terrorist implanted bomb."

However, the prosecutor's expert, Dr. Ray Hendrickson, stated he "cannot provide any conclusive opinion regarding whether Ms. Kaufman meets the legal criteria for legal insanity at the time of the offense..."

"It appears that the most likely scenario involved methamphetamine use, but to the extent it was either an exacerbation of an existing psychotic condition, a contributing factor to her mental state, or a substantial cause of her condition - is unknown...," Hendrickson's report continues.

Now that Kaufman has been committed to Western State Hospital, there are several hurdles she would have to meet in order to be released, Powers said. "They stay there for a very long time, typically," Powers said of the criminally insane.

If a criminally insane patient at Western State petitions for his or her release, first, a "risk-review" board of doctors would have to review the case and determine whether the patient is no longer a danger to the public, Powers said.

If this hurdle is met, then a "safety review panel," would also have to unanimously agree that a patient is no longer a danger, he said.

Finally, even if both of these burdens are met, a patient would also have to appear before a judge, and the judge would have to agree to a patient's "conditional release." At that time, a prosecutor could oppose a patient's release during a court hearing, Powers added.

A patient's conditional release would carry several layers of oversight by medical professionals, similar to probation for criminal defendants, Powers said. If a patient successfully completed a term of "conditional release" with no relapses, a patient then might be eligible for "final release" with no restrictions on his or her freedom, Powers said.

In Kaufman's case, every six months, doctors at Western State must evaluate Kaufman and provide a written report on her mental condition to the court, according to Dixon's order.

King County Housing Authority spokeswoman Rhonda Rosenberg said Friday that Kaufman's prior commitments to Western State in 2008 and 2009 would not have precluded her from living at Casa Madrona Apartments.

Casa Madrona is a type of federally subsidized housing that by definition allows the disabled and the elderly to live in the same building, a KCHA spokeswoman has said.

By law, the KCHA cannot request information about what type of disability an applicant for housing might have - including whether a disability is physical or mental, KCHA spokeswoman Rhonda Rosenberg has said.

 

 

Jeremy Pawloski: 360-754-5445; jpawloski@theolympian.com

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