Murder Suspect's Freedom, Confinement On The Line

By Patrick Cronin

Herald Sunday, Sunday, December 17, 2006

[The following article is courtesy of Herald Sunday and Seacoast Online.]

Helen Garland will be home for Christmas and New Year's, unlike the 83-year-old sister she is accused of beating to death three years ago, and that's where she'll likely stay unless prosecutors are successful in having her committed to a state psychiatric hospital.

A hearing to determine whether Garland, 75, is a danger to herself or others is scheduled for Jan. 24.

Garland has been charged with second-degree murder, but experts have ruled she is incompetent to stand trial.

If prosecutors can't prove she's a danger to herself or others, she'll remain free.

Senior Assistant Attorney General Will Delker said if the court rules Garland is not a danger to herself or others, the charges against her will be dismissed without prejudice.

On the other hand, if the judge rules Garland is considered dangerous, then the state will get the go-ahead to move forward with a commitment process that would take place in probate court.

Delker said if Garland is committed, it does not necessary mean she will not ever be tried by a jury.

At any time, the state attorney general's office could order Garland to take another competency evaluation if it thinks her condition has changed for the better.

Garland was arrested March 26, 2004, on first-degree assault charges, after she admitted to police that she would beat her sister, Alice Keyho, on a regular basis. She was later indicted on the second-degree murder charge.

When asked to elaborate further on her alleged abuse of Keyho, Garland told police, "I don't hit her often. She'd grab hold of my hand so I couldn't hit her again. I would never hit her in the head; it was around her chin."

On the day of the murder, she told police she got into an argument with her sister after she knocked over her china.

Garland also allegedly told police, "I didn't mean to kill her."

An autopsy showed Keyho had 22 broken ribs and was beaten from "head to toe." According to police reports, marks on her body matched two sets of wedding and engagement rings worn by Garland at the time.

Garland was ruled incompetent to stand trial last December after showing signs of dementia. Competency is defined in narrow legal terms as a defendant having the ability to understand charges against him or her and his or her ability to assist legal counsel with the defense.

Her lawyers were the ones to first question Garland's competency, especially after she refused to consider a plea- bargain deal. At the time, they said she was extremely unfocused at the meeting and was unable to comprehend the evidence against her.

Two experts confirmed their suspicions and testified that Garland was incompetent to stand trial.

Dr. Albert Druktenis, who holds degrees in psychology and law and conducted the competency test on Garland, testified she shows early signs of dementia.

While she appears to be an average elderly woman in many ways, Drukenis said closer observation shows at times she is distracted and confused and her memory blurred when it comes to dealing with the facts of the case and events leading to her sister's death.

"Where she gets into trouble is when she starts talking about the events themselves," he said. "I don't think she's given a consistent story yet to anyone, even a fake consistent story."