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Mental capacity of woman who beat her baby debated

By Walter Geiger Considerable time was devoted Oct. 21 in Lamar superior court to a hearing regarding the mental competency of Linda Jessica Gunn. Gunn faces five counts of first degree cruelty to children and single counts of aggravated assault and aggravated battery among others after an alleged attack on her three month old daughter in March, 2014. Catherine Boyer, a clinical psychologist who works at a state facility in Columbus and has a private practice in Auburn, Ala., spent much time on the stand testifying about her evaluation of Gunn. Prompted by assistant district attorney Mark Daniel, Boyer said she interviewed Gunn in April and reviewed the investigative record of the case. She subjected Gunn to psychological, vocabulary and comprehension testing. She testified Gunn has a below average expressive vocabulary but has no trouble communicating as long as one does not use complicated words in interacting with her. ‘She is intellectually below average. Her grandmother said she was in special ed in school and borderline mentally retarded,’ Boyer said. Boyer said Gunn’s IQ is in the 60-75 range. Daniel prompted Boyer, noting she had been tasked with determining if Gunn had the capacity to assist legal counsel at trial. ’Yes. She can assist. She can learn what she doesn’t know about the court system. She is competent to stand trial. There is the presumption of sanity. I have some questions but not enough to overcome that presumption. She has no history of delusion,’ Boyer said. Defense attorney Lansing Kimmey then questioned Boyer. She confirmed his statement that Gunn had a history of abuse by her own father. ’Ironically, her father broke her arm at age six. She fell off a horse and was unconscious. She left school after ninth grade. People made fun of her. She has never had a job. She functions at a fourth grade level,’ Kimmey said reading from Boyer’s report. He also said Gunn had twice been the victim of sexual assault but was afraid to report it, suffers from ADHD and had panic attacks while she was pregnant but never got any treatment. Kimmey said Judy Conner, with whom Gunn was living at the time of the alleged attack, brought up interesting points. The baby was born with issues and Gunn needed help understanding the medical system and paperwork. ’She bounced the baby on her knee like a toddler and did not see the danger. She talked to the child like an adult. She was childlike, timid and unsure of herself,’ Kimmey said and Boyer agreed. Testimony indicated Gunn could not subtract 85 cents from $1.50 and did not know how many months were in a year. Gunn denied intention to hurt the baby. Boyer said Gunn exhibited some evidence of post traumatic stress disorder and ADHD but there were no records to go on. Boyer also said Gunn was on two medications, Seraquel and Zoloft, when she saw her. ’She has definite intellectual limitations, definite mental issues and a lack of understanding about an infant’s needs and development,’ Kimmey alleged. Boyer said Gunn was unable to reliably report her thoughts at the time of the incident and agreed with Kimmey’s statement that she had a serious history of abuse. Daniel said Gunn gave two statements to law enforcement. ‘She mitigated the injuries in the first statement but admitted to breaking the child’s leg in the second,’ he said. ’She knows it was wrong to break the child’s leg. She knows the distinction between this and an accident,’ Boyer said. Daniel called the adoptive mother of the victim and a sibling to the stand. She produced letters Gunn had written her from jail thanking her for caring for her kids and asking how they were doing. (Note: The Herald Gazette is not identifying the adoptive mother.) Daniel took this tack to dispel Kimmey’s assertion Gunn could not read or write. Judge Wilson asked Gunn’s mother, Taymary Spires, to look at the letters. She said she thought Gunn had had help writing them. Kimmey decided to swear in Spires who then said on the record, ‘It looks more elegant than her writing. The girls in the jail have been helping her with her writing.’ Spires then produced a diary of Gunn’s that was put into evidence along with the letters for handwriting comparison purposes. When questioned by the judge, Spires said her daughter knows right from wrong and knows she is charged with a crime. Daniel reiterated that contention and said Gunn is able to assist in her defense. ’But did she know right from wrong then? That is the question,’ Kimmey countered. Judge Wilson asked Daniel what sort of sentence he wanted to which Daniel replied ‘over 20 years’. ’Her father got less than one year in this same court,’ Kimmey answered. Judge Wilson asked about the nature of the attack and Daniel said Gunn beat the child against a headboard, broke the child’s femur, threw a phone at her and kicked her – all of which resulted in brain swelling. Judge Wilson told Daniel to prepare an order declaring Gunn competent to stand trial and he would sign it. ’This is just a sad, sad story of history repeating itself,’ Kimmey concluded.

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