Las Cruces, NM – Prosecutors, and the family of a man who murdered his police officer mother, have joined forces to keep him locked up in a mental health facility after he was found not guilty by reason of insanity.
Justin Quintana, 35, murdered his mother, New Mexico State Police Officer Susan Kuchma, with her own gun in 2007.
Police said Quintana broke into his mother’s house and stole her police service weapon. Then he called his mother over to his house.
Officer Kuchma, who was off-duty at the time, went to her son’s home, but left after he showed her he had taken her gun. Quintana followed her, and fatally shot his mother in the head.
He called 911, and told responding officers it had been an accident.
At the time, a judge ruled Quintana incompetent to stand trial, and he was held at the state’s Behavior Health Institute in Las Vegas for more than nine years.
In 2017, two doctors found Quintana competent to stand trial, but one called him “extremely dangerous.”
His attorney and prosecutors reached an agreement shortly thereafter that they believed would keep him off the streets, and got an order from Judge Douglas Driggers in August of 2017 that declared Quintana not guilty by reason of insanity, the Santa Fe New Mexican reported.
Through the agreement, Quintana, who was diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder, admitted to murdering his mother, and was committed back to the state mental hospital until such as a time as he could be deemed sane or no longer dangerous.
But the state of New Mexico Department of Health said that’s not how a commitment works, and that Quintana cannot be held as a criminal patient in the state facility.
They said that doing so deprives the acquitted killer of rights that he would have had if he had been convicted, and told prosecutors that if they want to keep Quintana locked up, they must go back and pursue a civil commitment.
The health department took the matter to the state Supreme Court, and on Jan. 8, the five member panel agreed with the health department, and effectively voided Quintana’s commitment, KRQE reported.
Davis Ruark, a deputy district attorney in the Third Judicial District Attorney’s Office in Las Cruces, blamed the mess on a failure of New Mexico law.
“Forty-nine other states have provisions within their code that deals specifically with somebody who is insane when they commit the offense,” Ruark told KRQE. “There’s 49 other states that specifically allow for commitment to a mental health facility until the very least sane, but more importantly he’s no longer a danger to the community or himself.”
In their ruling, the New Mexico Supreme Court instructed the mental health facility to hold Quintana for at least 15 days, which gave prosecutors and Quintana’s family a very short window of time to purse a civil commitment.
The decision by the state’s highest court has left prosecutors and Quintana’s family scrambling to keep the dangerous schizophrenic off the streets.
His family said that signs of mental illness first appeared while Quintana was in college. He suffered from paranoia and delusions.
It was bad enough that his father asked a doctor to write a letter that would prohibit Quintana from buying a gun, the New Mexican reported.
His problems continued to grow, and a psychiatrist actually diagnosed Quintana with “various mental diseases” the very same day he murdered his mother, Ruark said.
Prosecutors and his family have said they do not believe he should be released, creating an unusual alliance in an effort to keep the general public safe.
“After 10 years he was found to be minimally competent by both a doctor in Las Vegas and then by a private psychiatrist,” he said.
Ruark said the private psychiatrist found Quintana to be just “barely competent, but extremely dangerous,” KRQE reported.
He said his office was hoping to get a civil commitment for Ruark, but that ultimately, the problem should be one for legislators to tackle, because current law doesn’t address what to do with people who are found not guilty by reason of insanity.