NACOGDOCHES, TX (KTRE) - A Nacogdoches County Judge ruled on Monday morning that the 38-year-old woman who tried to drown her 6-year-old daughter in a creek following an accident in June 2013 was not guilty by reason of insanity.
Shari Kamile Brandon appeared in Judge Campbell Cox's 145th Judicial District Court for a bench trial Monday. She pleaded not guilty to the first-degree felony charge of attempted capital murder
"My client, Shari Brandon, has gone through evaluations by the court appointed expert witness, Dr. Buckingham, who has determined that at the time of the incident she was legally insane, which means she didn't understand the wrongfulness of the nature of the act," said John Boundy," Brandon's defense attorney. "Now, the judge will hear the evidence based on that through the doctor's report and then we will make a finding of not guilty by reason of insanity."
Brandon will be sent to the North Texas State Hospital for further evaluation. Once her evaluation is completed, the court will decide a course of action for her.
"Because of the way the law is written, it means that Ms. Brandon will go into custody today and be transferred to one of the health care providers through the state" Boundy said. "Probably Vernon State Hospital where she will undergo further evaluation to determine potential for future dangerousness, things of that nature, and then they will make a recommendation back to the court as to what should happen - whether she have further patient treatment, community-based treatment, or some kind of outpatient therapy."
Since the incident, Brandon has been under house arrest with electronic monitoring.
"The judge made it a condition—he did give her a reduced bond amount, but put very specific conditions that she had to have. She had to have counseling, she had to be under the probation department's supervision at all times, was under 24-hour a day electronic monitoring and house arrest," Boundy said.
Under the McNaughton rule, a test of criminal insanity means it "must be clearly proved, at the time of committing the act, the party accused was laboring under such a defect of reason, from disease of the mind, as not to know the nature and quality of the act he was doing, if he did know it, that he did not know he was doing what was wrong."
Boundy says because Brandon did not know the wrongfulness of the crime committed, she can be deemed as "legally insane."
"Sanity is different than just crazy. Everyone knows someone who is just not all there. That doesn't necessarily mean that they are legally insane," Boundy says.
He says Brandon did not plan to try to drown her daughter and it was a spontaneous act.
"I mean, even the investigation at the time, this was completely a spontaneous thing and I would've anticipate dthe testimony to show the opposite of trying to hurt her child. She was trying to protect her child from a perceived evil presence that she in her state believed was trying to come and hurt her child and she was trying to protect her daughter," Boundy said. "And that's pretty much who Shari is; the consummate mother."
Micaela Fitzgerald, a program director for the Burke Center in Lufkin, says she was not involved in the case, but says psychosis can be brought on by a number of factors.
"A lot of times there are biological factors involved and then environmental stress can also lead to something occurring. Many times it can be just a myriad of things and they can all occur in a certain time frame and then psychosis can emerge," Fitzgerald said.
She says in these instances, a child can overcome the trauma.
"Trauma doesn't necessarily mean that your life will be negative for long-term psychological effects and people often do return to their normal functioning if they have support and treatment and things like that," Fitzgerald said. "So, for kids, I would definitely say that for treatment it's important to let the child talk about their feelings and tell their story whenever they are ready. That cannot be forced."
Another hearing in the Brandon case is scheduled for 1:30 p.m. on May 23.
A Nacogdoches County grand jury indicted Brandon on the attempted capital murder charge back in July 2013. At this time, she is still being held in the Nacogdoches County Jail. The charge was attempted capital murder because her daughter was under the age of 10 when Brandon attempted to drown the girl.
According to the arrest affidavit, a DPS trooper responded to a wreck near the intersection of FM 1878 and County Road 228 Saturday. Trooper David Hendry, a DPS spokesman, said Brandon struck and injured a motorist on a dirt bike. Hendry said, at this time, he cannot release the name or the age of the individual Brandon struck because the person is a witness in an ongoing criminal investigation.
Further investigation into the incident revealed that after the crash, Brandon allegedly grabbed her daughter from her seat and jumped off a nearby guard rail and into the creek bottom approximately 20 feet below.
The trooper confirmed all this with both emergency personnel that responded to the wreck and witnesses at the scene, according to the affidavit. While Brandon and her daughter were in the creek bed, she allegedly tried to drown her daughter by pushing her head under the water.
After the trooper and a Child Protective Services investigator interviewed the -6year-old girl at Nacogdoches Memorial Hospital, the trooper contacted the area's Texas Ranger and requested his assistance. At that point, the Ranger interviewed the little girl again with the DPS trooper and the CPS investigator as well.
Brandon's daughter told authorities that after the crash, her mother took her out of her seat and gave her what she described as a "piggy back ride" to the creek near the crash scene. The little girl said that her mother went over the guard rail and jumped into the creek.
The little girl told the Texas Ranger that she was scared "because she thought alligators were in the creek." She told authorities that she thought she was going to drown when her mother held her head under the water.
Brandon's daughter told the Texas Ranger that she able to "come up for air in just the nick of time." Then, her mother allegedly pushed her head under the water again. The little girl then told authorities that she decided to play dead, so her mother would stop drowning her, the affidavit stated.
After the little girl did so, Brandon allegedly left her down in the creek by herself.
The affidavit stated that during the interview, the little girl vomited "what appeared to be creek water that contained bark and leaves."
The 6-year-old told the Texas Ranger that her mother had been scaring her since the day before the accident (Friday) when her mother killed the girl's two kittens. Brandon's daughter said that the two kittens had scratched her mother's hands and arms.
In addition, the little girl told the Texas Ranger that her mother had been reading Bible verses and saying that the devil is in control. The affidavit stated that just before the wreck, Brandon "rebuked" her daughter several times.
The Texas Ranger noticed scratches on Brandon's hands and forearms that were consistent with the little girl's story about her kittens scratching her mother. He also went to the crash site and noticed disturbed dirt in the creek bottom that also backed up her account of what had happened.
"Shari Brandon has been sedated since the crash due to being combative at the hospital, and [the Texas Ranger] has been unable to interview her about the situation," the affidavit stated.
In a previous East Texas News story, Shari Pulliam, a spokeswoman for CPS, said the 6-year-old girl was placed into the custody of her father, who lives in another city.
Brandon has a previous arrest in Travis County in 2007 for DWI.