Mill Valley victim was slain in 1990
A woman who was committed to a state mental institution for the brutal 1990 murder of a Mill Valley woman will remain at a locked facility, despite her assertions that her mental illness is in a medicated remission and she would benefit from an outpatient program.
Marin Superior Court Judge Stephen Graham ruled yesterday that Friederike Marie Kruse, 56, should remain in Napa State Hospital, where she has thrived in a structured, bucolic setting.
Graham questioned recommendations by mental health experts, who evaluated Kruse and said she met the criteria to be placed in an outpatient program.
“What we’re talking about here is a person who in 1990 took the life of Angela Bretnall, and, in a horrific, abominable fashion, eviscerated her,” Graham said.
Kruse’s mental illness has been stabilized with medication in a supervised, structured environment where she has little pressure or stress, Graham said.
He cited testimony from mental health experts who supported Kruse’s conditional release, noting one had said there would always be a risk, and another who said, “she’s not as good as she looks.”
Graham said he is aware that the state Department of Mental Health has budget problems and questioned whether therapists felt pressure to recommend conditional release for Kruse because of cost. Keeping Kruse at Napa State costs $130,000 a year, while releasing her to a shared apartment in San Francisco and a four-hour-a-day program would reduce the department’s obligation to $30,000, Graham said.
Kruse was ruled not guilty by reason of insanity in the butcher knife slaying of Bretnall, a housekeeper who was working at the Mill Valley home of mutual acquaintances.
Kruse knew the residents of the home on West California Avenue through her interest in the teachings of the late Indian guru Bhagwhan Shree Rajneesh. Bretnall also was a follower.
In a 1992 sanity hearing, Kruse claimed she was possessed by the devil when she slashed and disemboweled Bretnall.
Marin Superior Court Judge Michael Dufficy ordered Kruse locked up in a mental institution for life, but her case is evaluated periodically.
In court yesterday, wearing a hospital-issued tan shirt and brown pants, Kruse appeared relaxed and composed. She did not register emotion when Graham made his ruling.
Legally, Kruse can be released if she regains her sanity, is placed in outpatient care or has served the maximum term of commitment, experts said.
In a memorandum to the court, Kruse’s attorney, Arthur Wachtel of San Francisco, quoted a state evaluation saying Kruse “is fully engaged with her treatment and continues to work on transition planning to the community.”
Wachtel argued that Kruse would benefit more from conditional release than continued incarceration. He said his client has been compliant in taking her medication and has insight into her illness.
Chief Deputy District Attorney Kathryn Mitchell said Kruse has suffered chronic, lifetime mental illness and is a danger to the public.
Mitchell argued in court documents that Kruse suffered a catastrophic breakdown in 1990, causing her to murder Bretnall, poison Gatorade at a drug store and spray poison on fruit in markets.
She said there is a link between Kruse’s actions and her commitment to the Rajneesh cult.
The cult had been engaged in mass poisonings in Oregon before it disbanded, Mitchell wrote.
In interviews with therapists, Kruse first called the news reports about the cult poisoning diners in a salad bar “media hype.”
She later claimed to have no knowledge of the poisonings.
“The mental health professionals appear to have simply accepted at face value Ms. Kruse’s conflicting explanations regarding the criminal activities of the Rajneeshees,” Mitchell said in the documents, “despite their knowledge that when she thinks it is to her advantage, Ms. Kruse has shown herself to be quite manipulative and deceitful.”
Kruse’s former husband described his ex-wife’s dependence on the Rajneesh cult as “akin to Standard Oil’s need for oil,” Mitchell wrote.
Outside the courtroom, Mitchell said she believed the judge made the right decision.
“Our belief is she is still dangerous,” Mitchell said.
Wachtel said Kruse recognizes that she does not have a right to be released.
“It has to be approved and she accepts the ruling,” Wachtel said, adding that Kruse probably will appeal.
Wachtel said the crimes committed by Kruse were random and not related to the cult.