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Shontelle Cavanaugh found not guilty by reason of insanity in baby’s death

By Sheena Harrison | MLive.com
On May 11, 2010

Shontelle Cavanaugh, the Pontiac mother accused of killing her 9-month-old baby in 2005, was acquitted of murder charges on Monday.

An Oakland County jury determined that Cavanaugh, 28, was insane when she smothered her daughter, Simone, according to the Detroit Free PressWDIV andThe Oakland Press.

Authorities said they found Cavanaugh’s child lying lifeless on the floor when they arrived at her home in June 2005. While Cavanaugh’s mother was distraught over her granddaughter’s death, Cavanaugh reportedly was unresponsive and unemotional when questioned.

Cavanaugh’s defense attorney Richard Convertino argued that Cavanaugh was suffering from postpartum depression at the time of Simone’s death. He called a California psychotherapist who specializes in postpartum mental illness as a witness to testify on Cavanaugh’s behalf.

Cavanaugh was sent to the state Center for Forensic Psychiatry following her acquittal, according to the Freep and WDIV. She can be released once doctors believe she is mentally healthy, and Convertino said he plans to ask for Cavanaugh’s immediate release.


JURY: Pontiac mother not guilty of murder

Monday, May 10, 2010

By ANN ZANIEWSKI
Of The Oakland Press

Shontelle Cavanaugh has been in custody for almost five years.

She could soon taste freedom again after a jury on Monday found her not guilty of first-degree premeditated murder and not guilty by reason of insanity of felony murder, a verdict that brought her relatives to tears.

“I’m happy. I’m elated,” said Cavanaugh’s smiling mother, Gina James. “I feel it was the right verdict.”

Cavanaugh, a 28-year-old Pontiac woman, was charged with murder in the June 6, 2005, smothering death of her 9-month-old daughter, Simone.

Assistant Prosecutor Brett Chudler told jurors that Simone had become an inconvenience to Cavanaugh and she deliberately killed her baby. Defense attorney Richard Convertino said Cavanaugh, who had been diagnosed with postpartum depression, had a psychotic breakdown.

During a trial that began in late March and included a two-week break, both sides presented mental health professionals who offered differing opinions on Cavanaugh’s state of mind at the time of Simone’s death.

On Monday, the second day of deliberations, jurors sent a note a few minutes before 4:30 p.m. announcing that they had reached a verdict.

Cavanaugh’s relatives melted into tears and hugged each other upon hearing the jury’s decision.

“Thank God!” one woman said.

Chudler asked Oakland Circuit Judge Rae Lee Chabot to remand Cavanaugh to the department of mental health for an evaluation. She granted the motion.

Convertino plans to file a motion seeking Cavanaugh’s immediate release.

“Congratulations,” the judge said to Cavanaugh and her supporters at the conclusion of the hearing.

Convertino said he was thrilled with the verdict.

“I’m so glad we had a careful, conscientious and thoughtful jury,” he said.

Convertino took on the case pro bono. He said his wife Valerie Convertino, who has two Master’s degrees in nursing, was instrumental in sorting through and deciphering medical records.

Convertino said he believes the careful review of records that showed that some testimony was inaccurate, incomplete or distorted helped win the case.

James, Cavanaugh’s mother, returned home on June 6, 2005 to find Simone unresponsive in Cavanaugh’s arms. Cavanaugh told authorities she put her hand over the baby’s face.

Since Cavanaugh has been in custody, James has primarily interacted with her daughter through Plexiglas or monitors.

As Cavanaugh was being led out of the courtroom Monday, James asked if she could finally touch her daughter. A sheriff’s deputy told her no.

But James is hopeful that her daughter will be home soon.

“I’m just going to hug her, hold her,” she said.


Michigan Mother Found Not Guilty By Reason of Insanity For Infanticide

By Katherine Stone May 11, 2010

The Detroit Free-Press is reporting that Shontelle Cavanaugh, a mother who committed infanticide while suffering from postpartum psychosis, was found not guilty by reason of insanity.

“A jury today found a former honor student at Oakland University not guilty by reason of insanity in the smothering death of her 9-month-old baby nearly five years ago.

Shontelle Cavanaugh, 28, smiled, and her family wept as the jurors announced their decision, finding her not guilty of second-degree murder. Cavanaugh, who had been diagnosed with postpartum depression at the time she smothered Simone Cavanaugh, will be sent to the state Center for Forensic Psychiatry where she will be evaluated by doctors.

Her attorney, Richard Convertino, said he would seek her immediate release … Convertino argued that Cavanaugh, who had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder [which is a serious risk factor for postpartum psychosis], was insane at the time …”

Diana Lynn Barnes testified on Shontelle’s behalf. Diana is a past president of Postpartum Support International, a forensic expert on cases such as these, and the author of “TheJourney to Parenthood.”

Now. Let’s be clear. A life was lost here. Tragically. I am not condoning that. I don’t celebrate it. I don’t take it lightly. I’m horrified by it. But what horrifies me the most is that women who are suffering from postpartum psychosis would not receive the care they deserve and must have —the kind of care that would prevent such things from ever happening in the first place. These women are at the mercy of a very serious illness.

As I was quoted in a recent storyon the HoustonPress’ website regarding another recent tragedyin Texas:

Katherine Stone, an award-winning advocate and blogger on the subject of perinatal mood disorders, says she doesn’t know all the facts about the Modarresi case, but when Hair Balls brought the Modarresi story to her attention, she steered us to the following information from the Postpartum Support International‘s web site:

It must be understood that a woman in a postpartum psychosis might understand the concept of right and wrong according to the law of the land, but at the same time might be hearing commands that she fully believes to arise from a higher and more powerful authority. These delusions are extremely powerful and she may feel compelled to follow instructions as if everything depended on her actions.

… (Her discussion of the symptoms of post-partum psychosis in “plain mama English” is a must-read.)

I know it’s very hard for people who’ve never been psychotic to understand. It’s hard for me to understand. But it is possible for people to commit heinous acts while driven by psychosis, acts that they would never otherwise commit. Until we can ensure that all women with postpartum psychosis are protected and treated byhealthcare professionalswho know what they are doing, these tragedies will continue to happen. I’m glad the jury recognized that Shontelle was truly ill.

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