Suspect's mental health history raises questions in Atascadero homicide case

Man accused of killing his neighbor may have been treated in 2009, but records are sealed

ppemberton@thetribunenews.comMay 31, 2013 

Mark Alan Andrews, shown in court May 30, 2013, is charged with murder in the shooting death of his Atascadero neighbor.

DAVID MIDDLECAMP — dmiddlecamp@thetribunenews.com

After Mark Alan Andrews told police his neighbor was a vampire in 2009, he was taken to the San Luis Obispo County mental health department to determine if he should be involuntarily committed.

While it’s not known what treatment the schizophrenic might have received, four years later, the demons in his mind apparently resurfaced, according to police reports, when he began to believe another neighbor was evil. And when Andrews knocked on Colleen Barga-Milbury’s door May 22, Barga-Milbury — unlike the other neighbor — made the mistake of answering.

As Andrews sits in jail on $1 million bail, charged with murder in the shooting death of Barga-Milbury, two questions arise: What treatment did Andrews receive after 2009 and how was he able to gain access to a gun?

According to police reports, it was Andrews who called police in 2009, complaining that the neighbor was a vampire that had molested him. The neighbor, in turn, said Andrews had left small mounds of dirt or flour on her doorstep numerous times and had once beat on her door, though she didn’t answer.

After speaking to Andrews in that case, police contacted the county mental health department, requesting he be evaluated for an involuntary commitment. As they waited for mental health workers to arrive, Andrews said he had heard children’s voices screaming things at him. At one point, he began to rub his fingers together, saying, “It’s happening.”

Eventually, the police decided to drive Andrews to county mental health. What happened from there is a mystery. Due to privacy laws, his medical history will remain private unless Andrews pursues a mental health defense in the murder case.

Jeff Hamm, director of the county mental health department, was not available Friday. But Kristina Ragosta, director of advocacy for the Treatment Advocacy Center in Virginia, said California residents taken in for involuntary commitment are evaluated for what is called a 5150 hold. A person who is deemed a danger to himself or others can be held against their will.

“They can only be held for 72 hours,” Ragosta said. “Unless they’re floridly psychotic and dangerous, they’re typically released.”

Before police took him to county mental health, Andrews said he had been diagnosed as a schizophrenic. And while he had been prescribed medication, he told police his meds didn’t work — and therefore, he didn’t take them.

Other recent local murder cases have involved mentally ill patients who didn’t take their medication, including Andrew Downs, who shot and killed two women in Santa Margarita in 2010; John Woody, who stabbed a man to death in Paso Robles in 2011; and Christopher Shumey, a San Luis Obispo man who shot his mother to death in 2011.

Even if a patient is declared 5150, Ragosta said, little can be done afterward to ensure the patient will continue taking medication.

“There’s no required, mandated treatment,” she said. “Most people are released within 72 hours with no follow-up.”

While Laura’s Law would mandate treatment for some patients, the 2002 California law left it to the counties to adopt, and only two counties — Nevada and Los Angeles — have done so.

“Research has shown that forcing people into treatment isn’t effective,” Karen Baylor, administrator for the county’s mental health department, told The Tribune last summer.

The issue has never come before San Luis Obispo County supervisors for a vote.

After Andrews pleaded no contest to resisting law enforcement in 2009, he was ordered not to come within 50 feet of the neighbor he accused of being a vampire. Meanwhile, according to his court file, he was ordered to comply with mental health counseling “as directed.” He was ordered to two years' probation, which would have expired a couple of years before his arrest in Barga-Milbury's death.

If Andrews were also declared a 5150 patient, by law he would not have been allowed to own guns for five years. However, his father, Jan, a former Atascadero State Hospital psychiatric technician, was a gunsmith, who owned a sporting goods store when the family moved to Montana for five years in 1976.

Atascadero Police Chief Jerel Haley could not be reached Friday to confirm if the gun Andrews allegedly used had belonged to his father. And a call to Andrews’ mother was not returned. But Andrews did live with his mother, his attorney, Ilan Funke-Bilu said Thursday.

Andrews’ father died last August.

Both Downs and Shumey used their father’s guns — Downs using a World War II rifle taken from an attic, Shumey a 12-gauge shotgun stolen from his father’s office — to commit homicide.

Keep updated by adding Patrick S. Pemberton on Google+.

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