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Experts disagree on Kehoe’s sanity

BY REGINA ZILBERMINTS | NOVEMBER 05, 2009 7:20 AM

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GRUNDY CENTER, Iowa — No one disagreed Wednesday whether Michelle Kehoe suffered from major depressive disorder.

But whether she understood her alleged acts were wrong is a different story.

In order to be declared legally insane, Kehoe must prove she was either incapable of knowing the nature and quality of her act or was incapable of distinguishing between right and wrong in relation to that act.

And that’s where witnesses have differed.

Kehoe, 36, of Coralville, is charged with first-degree murder, attempted murder, and child endangerment causing injury. Authorities allege she killed 2-year-old Seth Kehoe and tried to kill 7-year-old Sean Kehoe by binding them with duct tape and cutting their necks on Oct. 26, 2008. Sean survived. Seth didn’t. After allegedly harming her children, Kehoe took the knife to her own throat.

While the defense’s witness asserted Kehoe couldn’t differentiate right from wrong, the state’s only rebuttal witness strongly disagreed.

The defense’s witness, psychiatrist Marilyn Hutchinson, spent numerous hours describing how events in Kehoe’s life contributed to her mental illness. Hutchinson told the jury Kehoe suffered not only from severe recurrent depression but also from post traumatic stress disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder, and multiple-personality disorders.

Though Kehoe was seeing both a therapist and psychiatrist, Hutchinson said the number of therapy appointments — only 23 in the year after her first suicide attempt — were “grossly insufficient.”

When Hutchinson met with Kehoe in January, Kehoe scored a 35 out of 100 on the Global Assessment of Functioning — a test psychologists use to determine the psychological functioning of adults. That score means either some impairment communicating or major impairment in other areas.

On Oct. 26, 2008, Hutchinson estimates Kehoe was at a five, or in persistent danger of hurting herself or others.

Hutchinson said Kehoe killed her son for altruistic reasons: to save her children from the evils on Earth and to guarantee they would make it to heaven. The majority of women who kill their children do so for this reason, she said.

Nationally, between 1976 and 2005, 29 percent of murdered children under the age of 5 were killed by their mothers, according to the Justice Department.

The state’s rebuttal witness was Michael Taylor, a psychiatrist. He said he had “not one shred of doubt” Kehoe knew what she was doing when she drove her children to a secluded pond near Littleton, Iowa.

“Michelle Kehoe was fully capable of deliberating, premeditating, and forming the specific desire to kill,” Taylor said. “Michelle Kehoe very clearly had the ability to differentiate right from wrong.”

He pointed to the degree of meticulous planning and the subsequent lies Kehoe told as proof that she knew her actions were wrong.

While those suffering from depression can have delusions, hallucinations, bad judgment, and disorganized thinking, Taylor said he saw no evidence of any of those in Kehoe.

“Disorganized?” he asked. “I don’t know how it could have been more organized.”

Closing arguments will begin at 9 a.m. today at the Grundy County Courthouse.


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