By Paige Laver
SAN FRANCISCO, CA – On April 12, 2020, San Francisco police responded to an emergency call about a person who appeared to be under mental distress on the 1300 block of Natoma Street – on the back balcony of a blue Victorian apartment building, officers found 29-year-old Daniel Antonio Gudino naked and spattered in blood.
Daniel had said his name was Michael and that his sister had put a spell on his mother.
Inside the apartment, officers discovered the body of Gudino’s mother, 56-year-old Beatriz “Betty” Gudino. Her killer had used a baseball bat and drill to mutilate her corpse before setting it on fire.
Clearly in shock from what he had just allegedly done, David said “What did I do to my f—— mom? Oh my god.”
Daniel, according to official reports, said that he thought that his mother was a clone, not a human.
Last August, a jury found Daniel guilty of second-degree murder. However, the jury deadlocked 7-5 on whether Daniel was legally sane—and the jury was in favor of insanity.
After some discussion between the prosecution and the defense, San Francisco District Attorney Chesa Boudin accepted an insanity plea.
Boudin’s decision means that the state will incarcerate Daniel in a locked state hospital rather than a prison.
The DA’s intervention drew criticism from Brooke Jenkins, the deputy DA assigned to the case. Jenkins told Heather Knight of the San Francisco Chronicle that “Boudin’s handling of the case is one reason why she (Jenkins) resigned to join the campaign to recall him. She believes the DA should have challenged the insanity plea.”
Three experts who examined Daniel testified that the crime resulted from severe mental illness, according to court documents. Dr. John Shields testified and stated that “Daniel suffered from schizoaffective disorder as well as Capgras syndrome, which is the delusional belief that an impostor has replaced a loved one.”
John Gudino, Daniel’s father and Betty’s ex-husband, sees her death as the tragic conclusion of their son’s descent into mental illness.
The day before the tragic incident, John Gudino talked to Betty about the need to hospitalize Daniel, who had struggled with psychotic delusions, bipolar disorder, and schizoaffective disorder for years. Their other son, Daniel’s brother, has also been diagnosed with mental illness.
It was reported that Daniel’s psychotic delusions started spinning out of control in the weeks before Betty’s death.
John Gudino stated “We did feel that he [Daniel] should have been in the hospital at the time. As his mother and father, and knowing the symptoms and what was happening during the time, the paranoia, the delusions. Many factors go into realizing his state.”
Gudino continued, “Daniel had stopped taking his medication and was obsessively watching conspiracy theory videos on YouTube. Under normal circumstances, they would have hospitalized him. But with the nation in the middle of a COVID-19 stay-at-home order in the early days of the pandemic, they feared hospitalization would jeopardize his life.”
“We both agreed: If it wasn’t for COVID, he’d be in the hospital already,” he finished, adding that his son had been put on 5150 emergency psychiatric holds in both 2018 and 2019.
Treatment for mental illness was already insufficient before the pandemic hit San Francisco in early March 2020. The shortage of beds for mentally ill patients was very limited.
Even back in late October of this year, Dr. John SY in Savannah, Georgia said that they were in crisis mode. They reported that two weeks ago they were holding eight-10 patients in the emergency room, who should have been in the state psychiatric hospitals.
The shortage of beds in Georgia are reflective of the national trend to staffing deficits that are cramping services in the public mental health system. The bed capacity problem, which was an issue prior to the pandemic, worsened in the pandemic, creating backlogs of uninsured or patients who can’t afford psychiatric treatment, as well as people in jails who are waiting placements according to NBC News.
Then there are people like John Gudino, who fear for his son’s life because of how unpredictable COVID-19 is, especially in a hospital setting. Even if John and Betty decided to hospitalize Daniel, he could have been waiting weeks for a bed.
Nationally, the shortages of beds and mental health workers have collided with an increasing pandemic-driven demand for mental health treatment. If there were more mental health treatment care and options, tragic incidents that the Gudino family went through could be mitigated.
The morning of Betty Gudino’s death on Easter Sunday, Daniel took a shower. While Daniel wiped his face with a towel, he said that he was overwhelmed by the delusion that someone had planted COVID on it. He then went into his mother’s room and asked her to call 911.
The situation escalated into a murder so brutal that the coroner could not determine an exact time of death. In this way and many others, Betty’s death mirrors other cases in which adults kill their parents in the crime known as parricide.
“Parricides are often committed with undue violence and may result in overkill,” according to a recent study published by a group of Italian doctors in the journal Forensic Science, Medicine, and Pathology.
While some cases involve adolescents who murder their parents to escape or to stop abuse, “most adult parricidal offenders have severe and prolonged mental illness,” according to a 2012 study published in the Australian & New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry.
Parricide commonly involves mentally ill males aged 18-30 who live with their parents. The violence often occurs after the killers stop taking their medication. In some cases, young men in a psychotic state kill while experiencing the delusion that an impostor has replaced their parents.
“So the idea of killing that individual makes sense to the offender because of that particular delusion,” said Dr. Kathleen Heide, a distinguished professor of criminology at the University of Southern Florida, who added, “the fact that the crime is brutal is often seen in cases of severely mentally ill parricide offenders.”
The phenomenon is rare, but in 2007 the Bay Area experienced what the East Bay Times called “a bizarre spate of parricides” because in three separate cases, young men with histories of mental illness brutally murdered one of their parents.
Illona Solomon, Daniel’s public defender, questioned why Boudin’s office tried to fight the insanity plea.
Solomon stated “It was so obvious that he was insane. After killing and mutilating the body and trying to burn the body, he was on the porch screaming about demons and throwing charcoal at the neighbors.”
Some people on the case questioned if Boudin should have intervened sooner.
“In this case, DA Boudin gave the assigned DA wide discretion,” said Rachel Marshall, Boudin’s communications director.
“He did intervene when it was clear that the jury had disagreed and had voted 7-5 in favor of insanity. There were three out of four experts who found him insane… DA Boudin intervened to make the right decision,” Marshall added.
Jenkins vehemently disagrees. arguing “Daniel had threatened his mother before,” believing “Daniel murdered Betty because he was angry she wouldn’t call 911 to report that someone was trying to poison him.”
“I absolutely believe that he was simply angry with her for many years of feeling that she was not the type of mother that he believed she should be,” Jenkins said, “For him, much of the anger was centered around what he considered a lack of response to his call for help.”
Jenkins, who said the Gudino case was her first homicide trial, said the sanity question would have been a close call either way. She believes Daniel suffered from delusions but also understood what he was doing.
“This case could have come down with the jury finding him insane and I would have been fine with that,” Jenkins said in an interview arranged by the recall campaign.
Yet, Jenkins remains livid that Boudin undermined her work by making an agreement with his former colleagues in the Public Defender’s office and by refusing to speak with Daniel’s stepfather, who opposed the insanity plea.
“You simply can’t ignore the victims in a case,” Jenkins argued.
John Gudino, who met Betty when they were both teenagers and stayed close to her after their divorce, believes Boudin made the right call.
“Betty fought for both of our sons for years through mental health issues,” John Gudino said. “She would be in support of him, and for him to get the treatment that is needed.”