A Denair woman accused of stabbing her father to death and beating her mother testified in court Wednesday, speaking publicly for the first time since the attack on her parents on Mother’s Day two years ago.
Defendant Shanna Wills, 20, has pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity. She has been charged with murder in her father’s death and attempted murder in the attack on her mother. She also has been charged with assault with a deadly weapon in the May 8, 2011, attack.
Wills testified Wednesday in a hearing to determine whether forensic psychologist Phil Trompetter inappropriately spoke with her without her attorney present while Wills was in custody.
She is housed at the Stanislaus County Public Safety Center jail facility. When she first spoke to Trompetter, Wills was working in her cell unit’s kitchen, preparing food. She also worked as a janitor there. “I wanted to introduce myself to show him how well I was doing compared to the first time he saw me,” Wills testified, referring to her interrogation shortly after the attack on her parents.
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Authorities have said the defendant was profoundly psychotic for several hours after the attack, clinging to a belief that Jesus told her to attack her mother and father so they could become angels.
Trompetter, a hired consultant for the prosecution, testified that his chat with Wills was simply “small talk” and that he gained no information that could be used in a clinical review.
The Stanislaus County District Attorney’s Office has filed a motion asking the judge to allow Trompetter to examine Wills to determine whether she knew at the time that the attack on her parents was wrong. Deputy Public Defender Greg Spiering challenged the prosecution’s motion, telling the judge that the prosecution and its consultant already have “a wealth of information” to determine Wills’ state of mind during the attack, including reports from two court-appointed doctors who already have determined she was mentally ill at the time.
Wills testified that she initiated the first conversation with Trompetter because she wanted him to know “I wasn’t psychotic anymore.” She told him that the medication she was taking while in custody was helping to improve her mental health.
After that first encounter, Wills said, Trompetter would say hello to her and ask her how she was doing. The psychologist testified Wednesday that he never spoke to Wills for more than 15 seconds, and the talks were “superficial” as he waited to meet with other inmates. Wills is housed in an area of the jail where there are other inmates with mental health issues.
The defendant said in court that she didn’t know at the time that speaking to Trompetter without her attorney or his authorization was not allowed. She said the psychologist never informed her of the alleged impropriety of their conversations or notified her of her rights.
Wills said there were several encounters with Trompetter, in which he would ask about her medication and her family. Trompetter knew Wills’ mother; she would greet him at the receptionist area when he would donate blood at Delta Blood Bank. She testified that she told Trompetter her mother has not worked at the blood bank since “the accident,” referring to the attack on her parents, and has since moved out of state.
The defendant appeared emotional as her voice quivered slightly while explaining how she told the psychologist she has salvaged her relationship with her mother. “By God’s grace, we have been able to talk to each other,” Wills said on the witness stand.
Trompetter testified that he couldn’t recall the details of his chats with Wills and he didn’t take notes or speak to prosecutors about what Wills told him. He said he wouldn’t ask about her medication while waiting to evaluate another inmate.
The psychologist observed from another room as a sheriff’s detective questioned Wills shortly after the attack. He suggested some questions for the detective to ask, but he didn’t directly question Wills because she was then judged too mentally disturbed to give consent to an evaluation.
While Wills’ mental illness is well documented, Trompetter testified that suffering from mental illness doesn’t necessarily indicate legal insanity. That’s why, he said, he needs to examine Wills and question her about her state of mind during the attack. “Mentally ill people can commit crimes that are not excused legally,” Trompetter said in court.
He said the reports from the other doctors are not complete. The reports make no mention of Wills telling the detective she was enraged, had suffered physical abuse by her father and was afraid for her life, according to Trompetter. He said he wants to explore these possible motives.
Stanislaus Superior Court Judge John Freeland told the attorneys that both Wills and Trompetter were believable on the witness stand, but the conversations in the jail did not elicit any substantive information. He granted the prosecution’s motion, and Trompetter is expected to evaluate Wills later this month.
The defendant’s trial is scheduled to start Jan. 21. She remains in custody.