Man who killed fiance on Metairie street in 2013 must be freed, La. Supreme Court ‘reluctantly’ rules

Published: Nov. 3, 2022 at 5:05 PM CDT|Updated: Nov. 4, 2022 at 6:25 AM CDT
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NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - A mentally disturbed man who chased down and fatally shot his fiancee on a Metairie street nine years ago no longer can be subject to involuntary hospitalization, a reluctant Louisiana Supreme Court said.

In a decision issued Tuesday (Nov. 1), the justices of the state’s highest court said the release of 33-year-old Jamaal Edwards posed a clear danger to public safety and could lead to “almost certain disaster.” But the court said it was powerless to restrict Edwards’ freedom because of a US Supreme Court precedent and a legal loophole surrounding mental illness that it urged Louisiana lawmakers to swiftly address.

Edwards was found to be in a psychotic state on Aug. 10, 2013, when he chased down 24-year-old Tracy Nguyen in the 2300 block of Division Street and fatally shot her in the upper body around 9:30 a.m. The killing was not deemed a murder, because after reviewing nearly 2,000 pages of evidence and hearing testimony from three doctors, Jefferson Parish Judge Scott Schlegel found Edwards not guilty by reason of insanity in July 2016.

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Schlegel ordered Edwards committed to receive inpatient treatment at the Eastern Louisiana Mental Health System forensic facility in Jackson, La.

Inside that mental ward, doctors reported, Edwards continued to be dangerous and disruptive. Psychiatric notes documented multiple violent attacks by Edwards upon other patients and hospital staff, along with “sexually aggressive behavior” toward female medical workers. Edwards destroyed property, was caught orchestrating the smuggling of contraband and openly masturbated in front of others, according to court documents.

“He is described in the notes as arrogant, manipulative and -- with the possible exception of the murder of his fiancee -- free from any remorse for his actions,” the state Supreme Court wrote.

But during his hospitalization, Edwards was diagnosed with antisocial personality disorder, multiple substance-use disorder in forced remission, and “a prior episode of substance-induced psychotic disorder now resolved (the psychotic episode during which he killed Nguyen).”

It is that diagnosis that the state Supreme Court said has tied its hands.

“(Edwards’) potential for future violence is clear and apparent,” the court wrote. “His antisocial personality disorder in conjunction with his persistent substance abuse is a recipe for almost certain disaster. However, his diagnosis, according to expert testimony, does not constitute a treatable mental illness that would justify his continued involuntary hospitalization under existing law.”

The court affirmed Edwards cannot be sent back to the mental hospital under current legal conditions. Edwards has been living under home incarceration in Gretna since June 15. He is permitted to leave home for work, but is under electronic GPS monitoring to assure he adheres to a curfew requiring home lockdown from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. He also is subject to weekly drug testing as a condition of his probation.

The Jefferson Parish District Attorney’s Office said it intends to appeal the decision to the United States Supreme Court and “therefore cannot comment further.” Edwards’ public defender had no comment on the LASC’s ruling.

To understand why the state Supreme Court declared itself powerless to keep Edwards hospitalized, turn the clock back 38 years.

In 1984, Louisiana man Terry Foucha was found not guilty by reason of insanity after he was tried for discharging a firearm during an aggravated burglary. Doctors, who treated Foucha for four months, and the trial judge eventually concluded he did not know right from wrong at the time of the offense. They also determined Foucha was still insane and was a menace to himself and others. Foucha was returned to the mental hospital for another 3 1/2 years of treatment before a panel of doctors recommended his conditional discharge.

Like Edwards, Foucha was diagnosed as having recovered from a drug-induced psychosis but still afflicted by antisocial personality disorder, a condition not considered a treatable mental illness. Foucha’s trial judge ordered him returned to the mental hospital, but the US Supreme Court ruled in 1992 that Louisiana could not continue to confine him there, since his condition was untreatable and he could no longer be considered mentally ill.

Later that year, Louisiana lawmakers amended Article 657 in the state’s Code of Criminal Procedure to comply with the SCOTUS ruling in Foucha. The amendment, which still stands as state law today, requires the state to prove by clear and convincing evidence “that the committed person is currently both mentally ill and dangerous.”

In Edwards’ case, the state Supreme Court wrote Tuesday, “the state concedes that it cannot make that showing here because antisocial personality disorder is not deemed a mental illness.” The court said Edwards must be conditionally discharged because “under the law as amended to comply with Foucha, (Edwards) must be both dangerous and mentally ill.”

Six of the seven state Supreme Court justices agreed on the opinion, with Jefferson Hughes the only justice who said he would grant the state’s writ seeking to keep Edwards confined.

“We join in urging the legislature to examine the concerning situation presented here and carefully craft a legislative solution to better protect the public,” the justices wrote in their opinion.

“(Edwards) has a well-documented history of violence while involuntarily confined. A psychiatric expert opined that he presents a risk for future violence. The state has shown by clear and convincing evidence that he is dangerous. Releasing him into the community endangers public safety ... which we reluctantly do with trepidation.”

The court said it urged the US Supreme Court “to reexamine this area of law and the Louisiana legislature to act.”

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