Crime

Former doctor testifies in Lypps trial: Alleged murder victim was ‘out of control’

James Victor Lypps listens as defense attorney Matthew Guerrero cross-examines a witness during the first day of his trial for the alleged murder of his wife, Sherre Neal-Lypps, in 2009.
James Victor Lypps listens as defense attorney Matthew Guerrero cross-examines a witness during the first day of his trial for the alleged murder of his wife, Sherre Neal-Lypps, in 2009. Joe Johnston

An alleged murder victim was on a cocktail of antidepressants and other prescription drugs, suffering from “marijuana withdrawal” and was “trapped in a financial relationship she wanted to end,” just prior to her death, her former doctor testified in court Friday.

The defense for accused murderer James Victor Lypps, 66, argues that 62-year-old Sherre Neal-Lypps, depressed and highly medicated, committed suicide in her bathtub in June 2009. Morro Bay police long suspected her husband of murder, but he wasn’t arrested until December 2014, when detectives found traces of his DNA on a previously untested sample of one of her fingernails.

Based on that and other cumulative evidence, the San Luis Obispo County District Attorney’s Office alleges that Lypps, who cared for his ailing and allegedly abusive wife of 20 years, “snapped” and tried to strangle her with a rope before drowning her in a bathtub.

Ligature marks on Neal-Lypps’ neck indicate strangulation, a former county coroner previously testified, as opposed to an attempted hanging, as the defense contends.

The trial opened Oct. 17 and has proceeded with witnesses for the prosecution, which rested Friday.

On Monday, forensic toxicologist Bill Posey testified he had performed a toxicology screening on Neal-Lypps and found that she did not have any alcohol or drugs in her system. She did, however, have a slightly higher-than-normal concentration of the antidepressant Effexor. Posey said his office, Central Valley Toxicology, screens for about 300 drugs.

Under cross-examination by defense attorney Matthew Guerrero, Posey testified that Neal-Lypps’ blood sample was destroyed in 2011, which is not usual, he said, if no law enforcement agency requests it be retained. He said the Morro Bay Police Department made no such request.

She was under more stress, more pain, and she wanted to do something about it.

Kjersten Gmeiner, Sherre Neal-Lypps’ former doctor

On Friday, jurors heard from Kjersten Gmeiner, Neal-Lypps’ longtime primary care physician, who said Neal-Lypps was diagnosed with “major depression” and showed signs of “narcissism and borderline tendencies.” She testified that about a month before her death, Neal-Lypps was going through “marijuana withdrawal” and was suffering from anxiety, panic attacks and high blood pressure.

She was on a mixture of drugs including the antidepressants Wellbutrin and Abilify and the anti-anxiety drug Klonopin, but she would frequently complain that she didn’t have enough money to afford them all, Gmeiner said.

The doctor also said that in the final months of her life, Neal-Lypps was in a “constant overstressed situation” and had panic attacks that would “last all day.” Though her depression “waxed and waned,” when she suffered the most she would be “desperate, out of control and unable to function.”

She expressed to Gmeiner as recently as early June 2009 her desire to divorce Lypps and escape her “financial relationship” with her husband.

“She was under more stress, more pain, and she wanted to do something about it,” Gmeiner said. “She wanted to get out of her situation, because it was a major contributor to her psychological suffering.”

Though there was no evidence that Neal-Lypps had attempted suicide, she could be melodramatic,Gmeiner said, and was “a person who actively sought help.”

Asked by Deputy District Attorney Greg Devitt what that meant, Gmeiner replied: “They want you involved with them, you in their drama.”

She had a plan of shooting herself.

Atman Reyes, psychiatrist who treated Sherre Neal-Lypps

Atman Reyes, a psychiatrist at Vista Del Mar, an inpatient behavioral health hospital in Ventura, testified Friday that Neal-Lypps was admitted there on an involuntary 72-hour mental health hold — known as a 5150 — about two months before her death and was suffering from “major depression.”

“She had a plan of shooting herself,” Reyes said.

When patients are admitted to the facility, they are given a Global Assessment of Functioning test to determine their level of risk. Reyes said that on a scale of 1 to 100, in which 100 is optimal mental health, Neal-Lypps scored a 25. When asked if she was a danger to herself, Reyes said “yes.”

When she was discharged on April 22, 2009, her GAF score had improved to a 55, Reyes said. Under cross-examination by Devitt, Reyes said he felt comfortable discharging Neal-Lypps at the time because “the goal of reducing depression was ultimately achieved,” he said.

The majority of people who wean off some of the drugs that Neal-Lypps was taking don’t attempt suicide, he said.

Testimony is scheduled to resume Monday.

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