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State hospital ordered for Sheridan woman in murder case

Question of mental-health report public access leads to sealing of documents by judge
By: Gus Thomson of the Auburn Journal
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A Sheridan woman’s mental-health state won’t allow her to stand trial in the near future on a murder charge in connection with the stabbing death of her mother.

Instead, Ana Bejenariu, 34, has been ordered by a Placer County Superior Court judge to be committed to Napa State Hospital after a finding that she is currently mentally unfit to stand trial.

Bejenariu will be examined by a psychiatrist every six months and returned to Placer County for future court proceedings if she is judged in the future to be mentally competent to understand the nature of proceedings and assist her attorney in her defense.

Judge Frances Kearney made the order of commitment before a scheduled trial last week on Bejenariu’s mental fitness to have her case proceed. Instead, the next appearance by Bejenariu will come January 14 and deal with placement in a state hospital.

Bejenariu has already been behind bars in Placer County Jail for more than 500 days after being charged with murder in connection with the July 2013 stabbing death of her mother, 61-year-old Maria Bejenariu of Sheridan. The elder Bejenariu died after being stabbed in an attack at her home.

Bejenariu’s recent court appearances have been punctuated by outbursts revolving around requests to be sent to a state hospital and statements that suggested she didn’t understand court proceedings.

Two psychiatric reports were received by Kearney and served as the basis for the Dec. 3 commitment order. Kearney ordered the reports, which were initially labeled as “non-confidential” but withheld from public perusal by Superior Court staff, sealed to the public on a joint request from the Placer County District Attorney’s Office and Public Defender’s Office.

Kearney said that if the information in the reports was released to the public, particularly before a pending jury trial on the issue of the competence of the defendant, it could “unduly prejudice the ability of the defendant and the District Attorney’s Office to obtain a fair and impartial jury.”

Deputy District Attorney Jennifer Miszkewycz stated that the reports she requested to be sealed included statements on the offense, family history and Bejenariu’s psychiatric background. Miszkewycz added that it appeared the advisory committee under California Rules of Courts “is of the belief that reports are publicly accessible documents.” But she said that statements in the reports “have a high potential to impact a jury pool on the issue of guilt or innocence.”

Diane Apundich, of the Placer County Public Defender, said the records should be sealed and not accessible to the public because of over-riding interests for a fair trial.

“Additionally, the court should consider the public’s interest in protecting the integrity of the judicial process, which would be compromised if records were released,” she said.