By Patrick Cronin
The Portsmouth Herald, Saturday, September 24, 2005
[The following article is courtesy of The Portsmouth Herald and Seacoast Online.]
HAMPTON -- A Rockingham Superior Court judge has ruled that 75-year-old Helen Garland, charged with beating her 85-year-old sister to death in 2004, is not fit to stand trial.
Assistant Attorney General Will Delker said Judge Patricia Coffey released her decision Friday.
"I'm not surprised by the decision, especially with the expert testimony (at the competency hearing)," said Delker.
At Garland's competency hearing on Aug. 31, two expert witnesses offered by the state concerning Garland's mental health seemed only to bolster the defense's claims that their client was unfit for trial.
Garland allegedly beat her sister, Alice Keyho, to death in the home they shared at 10 Philbrook Terrace in Hampton.
While the judge agreed with the expert testimony that Garland is not competent to stand trial right now, she is ordering Garland to continue under medical care to see if her competency can be restored, Delker said.
A hearing is scheduled at Rockingham Superior Court on Dec. 21 to see if Garland's ability to stand trial has improved.
Delker said Garland will remain free on bail but with added stipulations.
"She is required to visit medical doctors and do what is necessary to see if her competency can be restored," said Delker.
Garland was scheduled to go to trial in October on charges of second-degree murder for allegedly beating her sister to death by breaking 22 of her ribs and backhanding her so hard the imprints of her rings were left in her sister's face.
At last month's competency hearing, Dr. Albert Druktenis, who holds degrees in psychology and law and conducted the competency test on Garland, testified that she shows early signs of dementia.
While she appears to be an average elderly lady in many ways, Druktenis said closer observation shows that at times she is distracted and confused and her memory blurred when it comes to dealing with the facts of the case and the events leading to her sister's death.
He said he believes Garland can't interact with her attorneys to form a defense and stay with that defense if she took the stand.
Jurors wouldn't be able to tell whether Garland was being evasive or honestly couldn't remember, he said.
"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."
Garland's defense attorney's Barbara Keshen and Dorothy Graham, who filed the motion for the competency hearing, didn't return phone calls by deadline.
Garland was arrested March 26, 2004, after she allegedly admitted to kicking and beating her older sister, who was found dead March 23 on an enclosed porch at the home they shared.
Garland allegedly admitted to police that she was unhappy that her sister was living with her and would beat her sister on a regular basis.
When asked to elaborate further on her alleged abuse toward 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."
Garland also told police that "she didn't mean to kill her sister."
In an interview with the Hampton Union last year, Garland said her confession was forced and that she never laid a hand on her sister.
"I loved my sister," Garland said. "My sister loved me. We had a good relationship."