Concerns over stabbing suspect’s release from jail despite history of mental illness

Updated: Apr. 11, 2019 at 8:43 PM CDT
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NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - Elisa Munoz-Miller had just dropped off her son at the Canal Street Church daycare last week when police say a woman attacked her.

“Both of my lungs are punctured, and I have 10 stab wounds,” said Munoz-Miller.

Munoz-Miller says it was clear to her at the time that her attacker, Uhuru Howard, needed mental help.

“The look in her eyes as well as the pure strength and that there was no letting up and it happened in broad daylight and she was yelling,” said Munoz-Miller.

Howard appeared in court Thursday for a competency hearing for stabbing Munoz-Miller and a 35-year old man that day. The judge ruled her incompetent after she screamed out in court " they’re setting me up by taking me to the doctor."

A forensic psychiatrist also gave testimony about Howard’s history of mental illness. That psychiatrist said she had a serious suicide attempt after hurricane Katrina when she drank battery acid and ate rat poison.

Testimony also included how Howard was in the Army and received care at the VA in the past. But despite her mental health history and criminal history, Howard was still on the streets able to allegedly attack Munoz-Miller and another.

“I’m not thrilled with her, but I’m angry at the circumstances that allowed this to happen,” said Munoz-Miller.

Howard Osofsky, a psychiatrist with LSU Health says unfortunately, Howard’s story isn’t an isolated one.

“There are people that do fall through the cracks, unfortunately sometimes they’re not identified, or they get referred to a program and get out of the program. There are not sufficient services to meet all the needs of the community but there are great efforts to move those forward,” said Osofsky.

He says especially when it relates to the criminal justice system, mentally ill inmates can be hard-pressed to get the help they need. Particularly, he says when the inmate refuses help, trauma induces the mental illness, or the individual hasn't been diagnosed.

“We’re trying to make efforts in the state of Louisiana to provide services better services while people are incarcerated but also to plan their continuation of treatment when they're released,” said Osofsky.

Osofsky says ideally, people like Howard would receive treatment before needing to be incarcerated.

And the woman still recovering from those injuries agrees.

The judge ruled Howard be sent to a state mental hospital in Jackson for treatment. Uhuru was in jail the weekend before the stabbing but bonded out despite a $1,000 bond.

Howard’s mother released a statement saying her family agrees “with the statements of Ms. Munoz-miller calling for additional resources for the mentally ill.”

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