Paso Robles woman found not guilty by reason of insanity in mother's death

Sunni Jackson, joined by her attorney, Jim Maguire, appeared in San Luis Obispo Superior Court on Thursday, June 27.
Sunni Jackson, joined by her attorney, Jim Maguire, appeared in San Luis Obispo Superior Court on Thursday, June 27.

Aided by reports from three psychiatric witnesses, a judge ruled Tuesday that a Paso Robles woman who killed her mother was not guilty by reason of insanity.

Sunni Daun Jackson, 38, was charged with murdering Earlene Louise Grove in April 2012 after police found the 61-year-old Grove in her bedroom, covered in blankets. Grove had suffered from blunt force trauma to the head and multiple stab wounds.

From the outset, Jackson’s mental health was in question, and for a brief time she was declared incompetent to stand trial. After defense attorney Jim Maguire announced he would pursue an insanity defense, Superior Court Judge John Trice appointed two psychiatric experts to evaluate Jackson. Meanwhile, the prosecution hired its own expert, Kris Mohandie, who offered his conclusion in a 24-page report.

All three agreed Jackson was not sane when she killed her mother.

Jackson, previously diagnosed with schizophrenia, had suffered from mental illness at least since 1996. While Grove often tried to help her daughter — who occasionally lived with her around the time of the murder — she also knew Jackson could be dangerous.

In a protective order she filed in 2008, Grove wrote, “I’m afraid of her.”

Jackson, according to her mother, often screamed at her, forced her way into the house, broke Grove’s possessions and threatened her.

“She raised her hand at me, threatened to hurt me ... says she wishes she could put her hands around my throat and kill me.”

That same year, Jackson assaulted her mother with her fists. During the court proceedings for that case, she was declared mentally incompetent and sent to Patton State Hospital, where she remained for roughly three years, Maguire said.

Still, her mother tried to help even after Jackson’s release.

“This last time I think she thought she could handle it,” Maguire said.

In the 36 hours before the murder, Maguire said, Jackson’s behavior became increasingly psychotic. Once again, she would become violent toward her mother, who would not survive her last attack.

After the murder, Jackson made several bizarre statements to police, saying, “If I’m gonna go down, she’s gonna go down for ruining a bunch of little babies.”

“Those were all delusions,” Maguire said.

Jackson had four children. In 1999, she filed a restraining order against a Paso Robles man — the father of one of them, according to the document — seeking protection.

“I am very fearful for my life and the life of my children,” Jackson wrote, “as he has threatened to take the children and flee the area.”

Others, however, were more fearful of Jackson.

In 2003, another Paso Robles woman — a mother of four — filed a restraining order against Jackson.

“Sunni has called a lot of times saying she was going to kill me,” the woman wrote.

After murder charges were filed, Jackson was again sent to Patton when she was declared incompetent a second time. Her competency was restored quicker this time, but, Maguire said, her mental health is still fragile.

“She now realizes what she’s done,” Maguire said.

That reality, he said, has weighed heavily on Jackson. Now declared not guilty by reason of insanity, she will be sent to a state psychiatric hospital — likely Patton again.

In California, murder defendants declared not guilty by reason of insanity are sent to a state hospital for treatment. After six months, staff can petition the court for the patient’s release. But a patient’s sanity is only considered restored if he is no longer a danger to the health and safety of himself or others.

If that is the case, the patient is usually then ordered to outpatient treatment for a year.

Jackson, however, might remain in treatment the rest of her life, Maguire said.

Even on regular medication, he said, Jackson is not mentally well.