Shumey sentenced to 40 years to life in prison for killing mother

Christopher Shumey talks to his defense attorney, Pierre Blahnik, after being sentenced Thursday, April 4, for the murder of his mother, Karen.
Christopher Shumey talks to his defense attorney, Pierre Blahnik, after being sentenced Thursday, April 4, for the murder of his mother, Karen.

Over his family’s objections, a San Luis Obispo man with a history of mental illness was sentenced Thursday to 40 years to life in prison for murdering his mother.

In February, a jury decided Christopher Shumey, 36, was legally sane when he fatally shot Karen Shumey, a teacher who lived in Arroyo Grande, as she stood outside his front door. He was also convicted of firing on police who responded to the scene.

Before he was sentenced for the Sept. 17, 2011, crime, his father, Robert Shumey, read a statement, saying he was devastated by the jury’s verdict. Christopher Shumey, who was first diagnosed as mentally ill while in college, should be sent to a mental hospital, not prison, he said.

“I saw his first mental break in 1999 and was witnessing his second mental break in the days and weeks leading up to this incident, and he was not rational or sane during this time,” Robert Shumey said.

But Deputy District Attorney Karen Gray said the defendant can get treatment for his illness in prison. “This defendant remains a dangerous person, and society needs to be protected from him,” she said during the hearing.

Both of Shumey’s parents had tried through the years to get help for his mental illness. On the day she was shot, Karen Shumey had expressed concern for her son, who was feeling suicidal.

During the trial, Gray said the defendant shot his mother because he felt she was being overbearing. But Robert Shumey, the victim’s husband, said the two had a good relationship, which he described in court as “caring, supportive, sharing, loving, compassionate a world full of many hugs.”

Victim impact statements are normally made to encourage harsher sentencing. But both Robert Shumey and Pamela Harris, Karen Shumey’s sister, called for lighter punishment.

Both criticized the legal and mental health systems for failing the defendant.

“The Christopher Shumey we know is a loving, sweet-natured, intelligent, inquisitive, fun, irreverent person,” Harris said. “He has struggled and fought for over a decade with this disease, and in the end the disease won.”

Superior Court Judge Michael Duffy acknowledged that the crime would not have been committed were it not for mental illness. But, he said, by law an insanity verdict requires more than being mentally ill.

In California, a person is legally insane if he is unable to understand the nature and quality of the crime and is incapable of distinguishing between right and wrong.

During the trial, Gray noted that Shumey not only stole a shotgun from his father but also purchased ammunition. After the shooting, he told police he had shot his mother.

Defense attorney Pierre Blahnik argued that Shumey was preparing to kill himself, but — in a suicidal rage — shot his mother as she knocked on his door.

After the jury’s verdict, he said, he spoke to six of the jurors, who said the panel had empathy for the defendant. One wrote Blahnik a letter, stating, “Nobody doubted his crimes were a product of his terribly difficult mental illness. The narrowness of the law constrained us.”

That juror said the panel worried that a sanity verdict would not get Shumey the treatment he needed, “making a family tragedy even more tragic.”

“This is a dark day,” Blahnik said in court. “The mental health system failed (Shumey). I failed him. And now the legal system has failed him.”

The defendant chose not to make a statement, though he did ask Duffy to clarify how much time he had to serve and what kind of facility he might be sent to.

Duffy said he would recommend Shumey be sent to a prison with a hospital setting.

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