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Lodi woman found not guilty of attempted murder, child endangerment by reason of insanity

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Posted: Wednesday, January 8, 2014 6:31 pm

On Wednesday, jurors found a Lodi woman who drove her car with her daughter in the back seat into a moving train not guilty of attempted murder and child endangerment by reason of insanity.

Christine Leach, 45, who was present in San Joaquin County Superior Court when the verdict was announced during the second phase of a trial that began last month, will be sent to a state hospital for treatment in lieu of prison time.

In Dec. 2012, a San Joaquin County jury found Leach guilty of attempted murder and child endangerment as a result of colliding with a Union Pacific train along Pine Street in Oct. 2011.

This week, those same jurors heard testimony from two court-appointed psychiatrists, who evaluated Leach several months after she was booked into San Joaquin County Jail. Based on their testimony, the jury found that Leach was legally insane at the time of the crash.

The verdict means she will be sent to a state hospital for psychiatric treatment in lieu of serving time in prison.

Law enforcement officials have questioned Leach’s mental health since her arrest in Oct. 2011.

In 2012, after being declared incompetent to stand trial, she spent several months receiving psychiatric treatment in a state hospital.

During a pretrial hearing, Lodi Police Officer Misty Springmeyer testified that Leach told her, “I don’t understand why these bad men are chasing me. I tried to live God’s plan and not take our lives.”

On Tuesday, both psychiatrists who evaluated Leach testified that she was insane at the time of the crash.

“At the time I saw her, she clearly was psychotic,” said Dr. Gary Cavanaugh, who diagnosed Leach with psychosis affective disorder. “I don’t think she was capable of understanding the wrongfulness of her actions.”

Cavanaugh testified that he believes Leach was experiencing delusions and hallucinations — more specifically, that people were trying to hurt her — when she drove her car into a moving train in Oct. 2011.

Several hours before the crash, she went to the Lodi Police Department, stating that a dead person was inside or underneath her water heater, according to police reports.

Dr. Anthony Chellson, who diagnosed Leach with paranoid schizophrenia — a disorder similar to psychosis affective disorder, he said — concurred with Cavanaugh’s belief that Leach was legally insane during the crash.

Deputy District Attorney

Angela Hayes questioned both psychiatrists on whether Leach’s decision might have been a suicidal act and not brought on by her diagnosed psychotic state.

Hayes said that Leach’s medical records showed two documented suicide attempts prior to 2011. Leach also had a conversation with her daughter that alluded to suicidal thoughts several days before the crash, Hayes said.

Both Cavanaugh and Chellson testified that they believed Leach was unaware of the dangers of her actions at the time of the crash.

Contact reporter Kristopher Anderson at krisa@lodinews.com.

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