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Child Welfare Worker Insane

January 1, 2009 permalink

Two psychologists testified that former Wisconsin child welfare worker Brenda Thiel was incapable of appreciating the wrongfulness of her actions. The testimony came only after the woman killed her son.



Dec 31, 2008

Child Killer Found Insane

OSHKOSH, Wis. (AP) -- A Neenah woman who suffocated her 2-year-old son was found not mentally responsible Tuesday.

Testimony showed Brenda Thiel, 28, had spoken of harming her children after she attempted suicide March 31, only six weeks before the death of her son, Caleb.

Thiel, a former part-time employee of Winnebago County's Child Welfare Division, was kept in the psychiatric ward at Theda Clark Medical Center from the day of her suicide attempt until April 8. The boy died at their home May 5.

Thiel pleaded no contest in November to first-degree intentional homicide but also contended she was not guilty by reason of mental disease or defect.

A criminal complaint said she told police she heard voices telling her to "give her only son" just before she suffocated the boy.

Two psychologists who evaluated Thiel testified she was incapable of appreciating the wrongfulness of her actions.

After the testimony, Winnebago County Circuit Judge Scott Woldt found Thiel not guilty by reason of mental disease or defect and said she would be placed in a mental institution instead of going to prison.

Under the commitment, Thiel could be institutionalized for life but will have the opportunity to petition the court for conditional release at six-month intervals.

Among the witnesses was psychiatrist Patricia Jens who told the court Thiel had become so psychotic that she didn't think she was doing anything wrong while smothering the child with her hands. Jens said Thiel thought she was sending him to heaven where he'd be happy.

"She did nothing to alert anyone," Jens said. "She was overwhelmed by the psychosis."

But special prosecutor Patti Wabitsch said in closing arguments that there was evidence to the contrary. She noted that Thiel told her mother to call police after she suffocated Caleb. Also, before committing the homicide, she closed the door.

"That's an indication that she knew what she was going to do was wrong," she said.

Members of Thiel's family testified she began growing lethargic a year ago, sleeping more and letting her hygiene slip, and after the suicide attempt she said she did it because she was having thoughts of harming her children.

Gloria Keen, her mother, said that on the morning the boy died, Thiel came in the room with an expressionless face and asked her mother not to hate her before saying, "I think I hurt Caleb."

Keen ran up the stairs.

"They made me do it," she recalled her daughter repeating. "The voices made me do it."

Keen said she tried to revive the boy, "but I knew he was gone."

Jens said Thiel had been treated for depression, not psychosis, and her grip on reality kept slipping after she left the hospital.

"She believed she was taking care of her son," Jens said.

After the verdict, Thiel turned to her family and said "I love you" before she was led out.

Her father, Rodney Keen, told reporters the trial brought some closure, but he's lost a daughter and grandson.

"The relief is that she's getting the help that she needs to get," he said.

Source: WTMJ-TV/Associated Press