It is easy to get emotional when dealing with a child murder as tragic as the one that occurred just last fall, when Aquelin Talamantes drowned her young daughter and put her in the trunk of her car before being caught by authorities.
We go to the testimony of Dr. Cap Thomson – a long-time and well-respected psychiatrist married to former Assemblymember and County Supervisor Helen Thomson. It is a tricky issue, the insanity plea.
Dr. Thomson testified that an individual who is actually psychotic and suffers from a diagnosed mental illness could potentially realize what their actions are in any given moment. However, he continued that a sufferer of mental illness might not be able to comprehend the consequences to those actions.
Dr. Thomson also noted that Talamantes’ IQ is 75, “and that the IQ for a normal functioning individual is between 90 and 100.” He also testified that “she believed the police were going to take and kill her daughter. She stated that she was ‘in a different state of mind,’ and admitted to the drowning of her child.”
The problem in a case like this is that you have a defendant with clear mental health issues. She is also a narcissist, which either exists independent of the mental illness or part of it.
Under the law, not guilty by reason of insanity has limited application under the 1843 McNaughton case, the first widespread legal standard for insanity. What has transpired is that the “McNaughton rule,” where the defense has to prove “at the time of committing the act, the accused was laboring under such a defect of reason, from disease of the mind, as not to know the nature and quality of the act he was doing or, if he did know it, that he did not know what he was doing was wrong.”
Such a finding, however, is very limited such that, in the case at hand, if we really believe that Ms. Talamantes believed that the “police were going to take and kill her daughter” and that she was indeed “in a different state of mind,” as Dr. Thomson himself testified, she still could have realized her actions at that given moment.
So let us not question the jury’s findings here, but rather the state of the system.
Carlos Saucedo of KXTV reports that Ms. Talamantes could be eligible for parole in as early as 20 years.
He interviewed Bill Portanova, a criminal law expert who stated, “Twenty-five years to life in prison is mandated by the statute for which she was convicted. A first degree murder is either life in prison with parole or without. When she has most of her sentence served, she can apply to the parole board for an early release.”
Mr. Portanova told the news station that he believes Ms. Talamantes will serve most of the 25-year sentence, “but the likelihood Talamantes will serve a full life sentence is slim. Very few people actually serve out every minute of their term. A lot of the time deducted from their sentence is based on good behavior.”
It should also be noted that Governor Brown has allowed more lifers to go to parole than other recent governors, but of course, in twenty years, Gov. Brown will not be governor and it will be difficult to ascertain what the policies will be.
The Vanguard was told that the DA’s office opposed the insanity plea believing that Ms. Talamantes would go to state hospital for a short period of time and then be released. This is inconsistent with current policy.
NGI (Not Guilty by Reason of Insanity) is covered under Penal Code §1026 and the inmates are handled under CONREP, the Forensic Conditional Release Program which is a statewide system of mental health treatment services.
According to their state page, “Most individuals in the CONREP program have experienced lengthy state hospitalizations. Once psychiatric symptoms have been stabilized and they are considered no longer to be a danger, the state hospital medical director recommends eligible inpatients to the courts for outpatient treatment under CONREP.”
The Vanguard was told that Ms. Talamantes, had she been confined under CONREP, would have been in state hospital for a very long period of time – probably a couple of decades or longer – and if they would have deemed her stabilized and no longer a danger to society, she would have been released to very strict supervision under CONREP.
They write, “The court-approved treatment plan includes provisions for involuntary outpatient services. In order to protect the public, individuals who do not comply with treatment may be returned, upon court approval, to inpatient status.”
It is also possible that she would have been confined for the rest of her life, depending on her services.
The Vanguard learned that, while the program is very client-centered, it also micromanages every aspect of the client’s life as long as necessary. If the public understood the state mental health system better, it would feel more comfortable with Ms. Talamantes in that system versus prison.
If she is released on parole, parole has far less control over the daily lives of released inmates than CONREP does.
As described, “CONREP individuals have direct access to an array of mental health services during their period of outpatient treatment. These services include individual and group therapies, collateral contacts (e.g., other individuals/ agencies), home visits, substance abuse screenings and psychological assessments. The DSH [Department of State Hospitals] has developed performance standards for these services which set minimum treatment and supervision levels for individuals court-ordered to CONREP. Evaluations and assessments are done during the period of state hospitalization, upon entry into the community and throughout CONREP treatment.”
The bottom line here is that most likely Ms. Talamantes will be released in about 20 years. She will not receive the level of services that she would have under CONREP. The prison system does a very poor job of helping inmates deal with mental illnesses – it’s not what they are best equipped to do.
It is very easy to sympathize with the young and innocent victim here in the case.
It was a traumatic day on Monday for the family, as well, who told the courtroom in Spanish, “Justice was done and that woman is going to pay for what she did. As you saw, she has no regret. No regret whatsoever. Her daughter’s death didn’t hurt her at all. But for us, it affected us tremendously.”
But what is justice and was it really done here? All we have done is put a very ill woman in prison for a long time, but she’s only 29 and she will be out most likely by the time she is 50. Shouldn’t we do more?
Unfortunately, the public sees NGI as a get out of jail free card, rather than a better way to protect the public while making sure that those punished were fully cognizant of their actions. The public clearly needs to know more about the NGI and CONREP system and the District Attorney’s office could play a role in that if they forget about the conviction mentality and focus on the needs of the community.
—David M. Greenwald reporting