Judge returns homicide suspect to mental health facility

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Saturday, February 16, 2013

— Judge James Forbeck raised his voice.

"Mr. Abbott," he said. Then more loudly, "Mr. Abbott!"

Keith Abbott looked up from where he had been pounding his fist on the table in frustration. From rows behind him in the courtroom, one could hear he was crying. He didn't stop when Forbeck explained that Abbott is close to what the judge considers legally competent.

"I want to go home," Abbott said quietly.

Forbeck on Friday ordered Abbott, 49, formerly of Palmyra, returned to Mendota Mental Health Institute in Madison for 90 days. Abbott will be detained on an involuntary mental health hold, which functions as an arrest when a court finds a person is a danger to himself or others.

A hearing is scheduled for Thursday so attorneys can talk about or argue the appropriateness of the mental health hold.

Abbott is accused of killing his stepson's partner, Kristin Miller, 33, Racine, and hiding her body in rural Rock County in January 2011. Police think Abbott killed Miller in Racine. He has been charged in Rock County Court but has not pleaded to the charges.

Abbott has been in custody and undergoing treatment at Mendota since that time. He has been diagnosed with depression, anxiety, psychosis, dissociative amnesia and conversion disorder, said Janice Munizza, one of the psychologists who work in the maximum-security area at Mendota.

Conversion disorder is a physical expression of emotional distress. In Abbott's case, he rocks continuously in his seat and has a tremor in his right hand. The disorder often is linked to dissociative amnesia. He cannot remember the homicide of which he is accused, Munizza has said.

He attends weekly group sessions in which clients get treatment to help them become competent to stand trial. To be legally competent, a person must be able to understand the charges against him and be able to participate in his defense.

"I think he's very close," Forbeck said. "I think within a few months he is going to move forward as a competent person."

Munizza in January said Abbott has auditory hallucinations of a commanding, threatening voice. Abbott refers to the voice as "John" and believes it to be the voice of Satan.

People with such hallucinations can learn to manage them or ignore them, Munizza said. Abbott's mental health has improved since the January hearing, she said. That hearing was shortly after a change in Abbott's medication.

Munizza in January said Abbott stopped taking his medication at the end of December. He tried to hurt himself and made suicidal statements, she said.

In court Friday, before Forbeck ordered Abbott back to Mendota, Abbott appeared cheerful and chatty. He raised his hand and told Forbeck how to correctly pronounce "Munizza."

"Rhymes with pizza," Abbott said.

When Forbeck ordered a recess, Abbott turned to the 10 or so members of his family behind him in the audience.

"Pretty boring, huh, Mom?" he said about the court proceedings.

Police arrested Abbott at his business in Sturtevant on Feb. 1, 2011.

A property owner found Miller's snow-covered body the previous day near Nelson and Avon North Townline roads in rural western Rock County. She was reported missing Jan. 1 in Racine County. The two had been having an affair, according to court documents.

If Abbott had been found competent Friday, he would have been transferred to the Rock County Jail where he would have been kept in a medical observation cell.

Last updated: 8:10 am Monday, April 29, 2013

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