Mother committed in slaying of son, 3

From The Oregonian, June 27, 1989 – not available elsewhere online

A judge Monday found a woman who drowned her 3-year-old son guilty of murder except for insanity.

Donna L. Gardner, 41, “did not appreciate the criminality of her conduct,” Multnomah County Circuit Judge Phillip Abraham concluded after a trial on stipulated facts. In addition, he said, “she was not able to conform her conduct to the confines of the law.”

Abraham based the verdict in part on psychiatric evaluations, from both the prosecution and the defense, that said Gardner suffered from schizophrenia. Finding she was a danger to others, Abraham committed her to the custody of the state Psychiatric Security Review Board for life. A life sentence would have been the maximum she could have received for a murder conviction.

“This is a difficult case for everyone because this type of behavior defies explanation,” Abraham said of Gardner’s drowning her son.

Gardner called police Feb. 23, saying she had killed her child. When police arrived at Apt. 20 of 6520 N.E. Broadway, they found Jay Earl Gardner dead in the bathtub. Gardner had cut her own wrists.

“Schizophrenia is perhaps the only explanation for the facts in this particular case,” defense lawyer David M. Audet told the judge. “And treatment at a state hospital is perhaps the only practical result.”

Although a verdict of guilty except for insanity is not a conviction, a judge can commit a defendant to the care of the Psychiatric Security Review Board if the person is found to be dangerous.

Abraham said he wanted Gardner taken to a state hospital as soon as possible. How long she will stay there is unclear; neither Audet nor Deputy District Attorney Gwenn Butkovsky could speculate.

Oregon law requires that persons committed to the custody of the state Review Board be evaluated within 90 days of arrival at a state hospital. After that, the patient can request a review every six months. A review is required at least once more within the first two years.

Gardner suffers from “a shattered mind” and is “certain to be a danger to others,” according to psychiatric reports submitted to the court. One psychiatrist said she should not be around children.

Gardner also has a 5-year-old daughter, who is in the custody of the Children’s Services Division.

“I think this case is a tragedy for everyone concerned,” said Dennis Shen, who prosecuted the case with Butkovsky. “There are only losers in this case, from all sides.”