Court to determine sanity of man guilty in murder of mother

ppemberton@thetribunenews.comFebruary 7, 2013 

Christopher Shumey

DAVID MIDDLECAMP — dmiddlecamp@thetribunenews.com Buy Photo

Christopher Shumey was living in an “alternate world,” envisioning himself in a coma and writing letters to fictional people around the time he killed his mother, a defense attorney said Thursday.

But a prosecutor, saying Shumey acted rationally both immediately before and after the murder, said the defendant is exaggerating his mental illness in order to make jurors think he was insane.

“Yes, he has a mental disorder,” Deputy District Attorney Karen Gray told jurors.  “But that does not answer the question of whether he was legally insane.”

Shumey, 36, of San Luis Obispo has already been convicted of second-degree murder in the Sept. 17, 2011, death of his mother, Arroyo Grande teacher Karen Shumey. Now his attorney, Pierre Blahnik, has the burden of proof to show Shumey was insane when he committed the crime.
If found legally insane, Shumey will be sent to a mental hospital; if sane, he goes to prison.

On Thursday, Blahnik said Shumey was “in the throes of and under the influence of his mental illness” when he committed the crime. Gray countered that Shumey had managed to control his mental illness in the past — enough to get a college degree, hold a job for several years and travel abroad.

Two days before the murder, she said, he visited a psychiatrist, who didn’t notice any psychotic behavior.

“He was lucid,” Gray said. “He was clear. He was making sense.”

He was also lucid, she added, when he spoke to neighbors before the shooting and when he spoke to police afterward. Only later, while in jail, she said, did he start to blame his mental illness.

“He was trying to game the system,” Gray said.

Shumey does have a history of mental illness, witnesses testified after opening statements. Stephen Daniels, a retired physician at Santa Barbara’s Cottage Hospital, testified that Shumey entered the emergency room there in 1999 complaining of hallucinations.

“Mr. Shumey alleged that he’d been hearing voices from God, the devil and angels,” Daniels said.

Confused about his sexuality, Shumey said he believed God came to him at night to punish him. He also believed little people were jumping out of his ears to talk to him, testified Cottage psychiatrist George Bifano.

“He was blatantly psychotic,” Bifano said.

Shumey’s quick return to reality suggested the hallucinations could have been drug-induced, Bifano said, adding that Shumey had used various drugs in the past. But, he added, people with schizophrenia often first experience symptoms at that age.

Reena Patel, a friend and fellow UC Santa Cruz student in the 1990s, said she saw a “drastic change”

in Shumey during his last semester — so much that she and a roommate sought guidance from the university’s psychiatric services.

“He was not on drugs at the time that he had these, I’d call them, delusions of grandeur,” she said.

After the murder, police found letters Shumey had written to NBC studios — one warning of a man coming to impregnate women there.  He also wrote letters to celebrities and one to a couple that didn’t exist, Blahnik said. In one note found in his composition book, Shumey promised to kill himself on Sept. 13 — the date written in blood — after a trip to Jamaica, testified Shelly Dunn, a detective with the San Luis Obispo Police Department.

Despite Shumey’s health issues, Gray said beforehand, mentally ill people often function well in society.

“And they don’t kill people.”   

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