A three-judge panel yesterday ordered Stephen M. Ferenz, a mentally ill Glenville man who stabbed his mother to death on New Year’s Eve 2003, confined for 40 years in a maximum security mental health facility.
Ferenz, 44, stabbed his mother, Carol Ferenz, 63, eight times in the chest, back, and right arm at their Glenville home on Dec. 31, 2003, according to testimony. In January, the three-judge panel found the Glenville man not guilty by reason of mental disease or defect, because of Ferenz’s psychosis and 24-year history of mental illness.
– Legal Quandary In Stabbing Case
“Whatever you decide will be fine,” Ferenz told the panel before their brief deliberations.
Ferenz will be confined at the Whiting Forensic Division of the Connecticut Valley Hospital in Middletown, a state-run psychiatric institution for potentially dangerous people.
The panel placed Ferenz under the authority of the Psychiatric Security Review Board, a state agency that evaluates the duration and terms of confinement for those acquitted for reasons of mental illness. Under state law, the six-member Psychiatric Security Review Board reconsiders the cases of violent criminals acquitted for mental disease every two years and can order their release if they determine they are no longer dangerous.
In announcing the unanimous decision yesterday, state Superior Court Judge John Kavanewsky Jr. said that despite some recent progress in therapy, Ferenz needed to be treated in a facility where he could be prevented from hurting others.
“The acquittee was and currently continues to be afflicted with a schizo-affective disorder, which includes paranoid psychosis,” Kavanewsky said. “Due to the nature of the acquittee’s mental illness, he is still a danger to himself and others.”
Several times during the hearing Ferenz broke out in sobs, shaking in his chair.
Before the decision was announced, Dr. Mark Cotterell, a forensic psychiatrist at the Whiting Forensic Division, testified for the prosecution and recommended confinement, saying Ferenz doesn’t yet understand his mental illness or how it contributed to the crime. Both the prosecution and defense advocated for confining Ferenz in a secure mental health facility, but yesterday they differed on the appropriate length of time.
Before the decision Supervisory State’s Attorney Jim Bernardi asked the panel to commit Ferenz for 60 years, given the ferocious attack on Carol Ferenz, and what the prosecutor characterized as Ferenz’s recurring refusal to take medicine or acknowledge his illness over the years.
In January, a psychiatrist testified Ferenz was hospitalized for psychiatric treatment or evaluation a dozen times from 1999 to 2003, but would slip off his medication and relapse into aggressive, suspicious, and delusional behavior.
While taking medication and receiving treatment from 1986 to 1999, Ferenz managed to work, live well and even get married, according to court testimony in January.
Bernardi said Ferenz’s family, including his brother John, advocated for a longer sentence.
“He succeeded in taking the life of his mother, probably the person who cared the most for him,” Bernardi said. “He refused to believe he was ill and insisted his own medication was a hindrance to him getting well.”
Public defender Susan Hankins asked the panel to commit Ferenz for 25 years, arguing he would be 69 years old by the time he was released.
Hankins told the panel Ferenz’s mental illness became apparent after a car accident while at college in Florida at the age of 19.
Hankins later said Ferenz sustained a head injury in the crash.
Hankins asked the panel to consider that Ferenz stopped taking his psychiatric medicine because side effects like fatigue made it hard to hold a job.
“He felt he needed to fulfill those responsibilities (working) which decreased his control of his illness and began his spiral,” Hankins said.
During the initial three-judge hearing in January, a psychiatrist testified that Ferenz was psychotic, experiencing strange religious obsessions and paranoid fantasies, including a prominent belief that family, doctors, and other authority figures were conspiring to keep him from reaching his career and religious aspirations.
John Ferenz could not be reached for comment yesterday, and Hankins declined comment.
Bernardi said while sympathetic to Ferenz’s disease, he felt the 40-year confinement was appropriate.
“The sentence is good and is virtually a life sentence,” Bernardi said. “You have to care for the mentally ill but also protect society while you’re at it.”
Following the stabbing, authorities weighed whether to charge Ferenz with murder because Carol Ferenz, a devout Jehovah’s Witness, refused potentially life saving blood transfusions, in keeping with her faith.
The three-judge panel was made up of Kavanewsky, and state Superior Court Judges Taggart Adams and Chase Rogers.
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