SMELLS LIKE JOURNALISM: How The Justice System Killed A Woman For The Crime Of Schizophrenia

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[Photo by LINDA DG]

gradphoto.thumbnail.JPGINQUIRER: Sandy Morgan didn’t have a receipt when she walked out of the Boothwyn Wal-Mart with more than $500 worth of dolls, toys and girls’ clothes. In her mind, she didn’t need one. She owned Wal-Mart, she told a manager who tried to stop her. Sandy knew things others didn’t. She knew she owned many stores and she knew the television transmitted demons. She took care to protect her family: She threatened the demons with knives and a broken mop handle; she threw away food she was sure was poisoned.

It was a strain, fighting things no one else saw. Once her sisters watched as Sandy wandered into the street and gradphoto.thumbnail.JPGlooked up at the sky. She asked God to take her. But that February afternoon in 2006, it was the police who took Sandy. Arrested for shoplifting, the 38-year-old college graduate from Aston was ordered held on $10,000 bail and taken to the Delaware County jail. Within the first hours of Sandy’s incarceration, a physician’s assistant guessed she might be mentally retarded. Within a day, a doctor diagnosed her as schizophrenic. Within eight days, a psychiatrist declared her incompetent to stand trial.While the court waited for a competency report, Sandy waited in jail. For five weeks, she saw no visitors. She never went outside. She hid under covers and stared at the walls.

gradphoto.thumbnail.JPGShe went two weeks without a shower because the nurses were afraid to go near her. “Time to get out!” Sandy told a nurse after a week in jail. After two weeks, “Are you here for Jesus?” After a month, “Is [that] a horse over there?” If a local hospital hadn’t released Sandy from its psychiatric ward weeks earlier, she might not have been arrested. If she had threatened to kill the Wal-Mart employees, or herself, the police could have taken her to a hospital. If jail officials had called Sandy’s family, they might have known what was wrong when she collapsed in her cell, her arms and legs flailing, her body cold. But Sandy wasn’t lucky like that. MORE

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