Wednesday, May 14, 2003

Shooter ruled insane

'Not guilty' rendered in professor's killing

By Janice Morse
The Cincinnati Enquirer

HAMILTON - A judge Tuesday found Tonda Lynn Ansley not guilty by reason of insanity in the death of Miami University Professor Sherry Lee Corbett who, new court filings show, had expressed concerns about Ansley's mental health months before the shooting.

Tonda Lynn Ansley
Butler County Common Pleas Judge Keith Spaeth said three unanimous psychological reports left him "duty-bound" to declare that Ansley, 37, was too mentally ill to be held responsible for Corbett's July 27 slaying. Ansley wielded a semiautomatic .40-caliber Smith & Wesson in front of at least nine witnesses in a daylight assault that shocked the Dayton Lane Historic Area where both women lived. Corbett, 55, was a historic preservationist, and Ansley's landlord.

Spaeth ordered that Ansley continue to be held in a locked maximum-security mental facility near Columbus, awaiting a May 27 hearing to determine the least-restrictive setting for her treatment.

In such cases, Ohio law calls for periodic reviews of the patient's mental status, until a court would determine she no longer needs mental-health treatment or supervision.

Ansley had been set for a jury trial next week, but waived her right to a jury. That left it up to Spaeth to decide her fate.

The biennial May Promenade, a tour of historic homes that Sherry Lee Corbett started, is set for 1-5 p.m. Sunday. It features 10 homes - including the one where Corbett lived - along with horse-drawn carriage rides, a fashion show and an appearance by the Wheelmen, who ride vintage bicycles. Cost is $8 in advance, $10 on the day of the event. Proceeds will go toward a fund to erect a fountain in Corbett's honor. Information: Web site; Nye's office, 887-1100; Greater Hamilton Chamber of Commerce, 844-1500.
Because all three reports concurred, Spaeth "had no other choice" but to find Ansley not guilty by reason of insanity, Ansley's court-appointed lawyer, Melynda Cook-Reich said. Assistant Prosecutor Craig Hedric agreed.

Since Ohio law has no "guilty but insane" provision, "not guilty by reason of insanity" becomes the sole option when all experts agree a defendant was insane at the time of a crime. "That's what we're stuck with," said Hedric; he explained that to Corbett's relatives.

Spaeth said the three mental-health evaluations - each prepared separately on behalf of the court, the prosecution and the defense - concluded that Ansley fit the legal definition of "insane." She suffered from such a severe mental illness that she didn't comprehend the wrongfulness of her actions when she fatally shot Corbett, the reports said.

At one point, Corbett had told others that "she thought Ms. Ansley had mental problems," psychologist Sherry Baker said in her report. Now taking strong antipsychotic medication, Ansley becomes tearful when she discusses the shooting and says, "Sherry Corbett was one of my good friends and look at what I did to her," Cook-Reich said.

None of Ansley's evaluators could find a rational explanation for the killing; police also couldn't find a motive, Hedric said.

All three evaluators said the shooting was the culmination of Ansley's increasingly delusional beliefs that Corbett, Brett Ansley (her former husband) and others were conspiring against her - so she had to kill or be killed.

When Spaeth acknowledged that loved ones of both Corbett and Ansley had suffered, Ansley wiped tears from her eyes with a tissue held in both hands. Two of her relatives sat in the back row of Spaeth's courtroom. They declined to talk to reporters afterward. Attempts to obtain comment from Corbett's relatives, who live out of state, were unsuccessful.

"I'm not saying anyone likes what has happened," Hedric said. But at least Ansley "is going to be off the street, where she can't hurt others."

Meanwhile, some residents in the Dayton Lane area were upset about the ruling. But Tom Nye, president of the Dayton Lane Association, said, "Here in the neighborhood, we really don't dwell on what Ms. Ansley did a year ago. We hope she gets the kind of treatment she needs, and we move forward.

"As for Sherry, we don't want to just sweep her memory under the rug. We wouldn't be where we are without her. We all continue to benefit from her work and her inspiration."


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