Ewa Misztal ordered to go to a state hospital for treatment

Woman found not guilty by reason of insanity in death of infant daughter

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A woman who pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity related to the death of her infant daughter in 2016 has been ordered to a state hospital for further treatment.

Humboldt County Superior Court Judge Christopher Wilson ruled Thursday that Ewa Misztal, 31, must be returned to the custody of Napa State Hospital. He based his ruling on a previous finding made by retired Judge Dale Reinholtsen, who found Misztal had not fully recovered from her mental illness.

Wilson followed the last recommendation put forth from CONREP — a program that treats patients with mental disorders related to legal issues, including those deemed not guilty by reason of insanity — that Misztal be committed to treatment at the state hospital. He cited the agency’s responsibility to protect the public as the primary reason.

Misztal

“Certainly there is a desire to put together some local program,” Wilson said during his ruling. “What I see from CONREP is a legal obligation to supervise people who have committed offenses of a very serious nature. It’s a legal obligation. They have programs to provide that supervision and I have to respect their recommendations.”

The ruling came in contrast to repeated arguments from Misztal’s defense attorney, Deputy Public Defender Casey Russo, that Misztal had recovered sufficiently to be treated locally, where she has a support system.

“I think this decision reflects, in my mind, one of the failures of our mental health system,” Russo said following the hearing. “It comes down to a lack of local resources the court can immediately point to. We have a county mental health system. We have a county probation department and they are connected to the state hospital and (CONREP) has the ability to use these (local) agencies as designees; it just hasn’t been done.”

Russo argued over the course of several hearings that Misztal has not shown any signs of mental illness and that sending her to the state hospital for treatment will only delay her full recovery.

“She’ll be sent to the state hospital for a minimum of 180 days, what they call an observational period,” Russo said. “After the 180 days, either CONREP can recommend she be released to an outpatient program or we can petition the court given how well she has been doing and we fully intend to. Obviously, we believe that outpatient treatment was the appropriate course and Ms. Misztal would do perfectly well in outpatient treatment.”

While the defense did not agree with the ruling, the prosecutor, Deputy District Attorney Carolyn Schaffer argued the judge’s decision was made in accordance with state law.

Schaffer said the law is clear in that if no suitable outpatient treatment is available Misztal must be committed for at least 180 days.

“No suitable program has been found,” Schaffer argued. “It seems to me that due to the absence of any program, the court needs to commit the defendant to the state hospital.”

Following the short hearing, Schaffer said Wilson had little other option than to send Misztal back for more treatment.

“I think he ruled according to the options he had available to him under the law,” she said.

Misztal appeared in court in custody wearing a jail-issued jumpsuit and she conferred quietly with Russo before the hearing began. She was arrested in August 2016 and charged with felony assault that resulted in the death of her 7-month-old daughter.

Following evaluations from two psychiatrists, Misztal was found not guilty by reason of insanity and it’s on that finding that Russo has based all of his ensuing arguments about where she can get the best treatment for her mental illness.

“Obviously there are limited resources, a lack of funding and the fact we only have one CONREP representative who is in Sacramento, all of those things make it difficult because there is no program readily available,” Russo said, adding that he has gotten no response from CONREP about developing a local treatment program. “It requires a lot of time and money and effort to put together a program and, unfortunately, I think it’s seen by these agencies and it’s easier to send her to a state hospital. In my opinion, that’s why (CONREP) made that decision as opposed to an honest evaluation.”

Wilson ordered Misztal to be turned over to the custody of the state hospital on May 8.

Dan Squier can be reached at 707-441-0528. 

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