Woman who caused crash that killed 5-year-old may plead insanityMichelle Wierson. Photo provided by the DeKalb County Sheriff's Office
Decatur, GA – Michelle Wierson, an Avondale Estates resident who pleaded not guilty to charges of vehicular homicide, reckless driving, and battery stemming from a Sept. 27, 2018 crash that resulted in the death of 5-year-old Miles Jenness, is considering pleading not guilty by reason of insanity.
If the is found not guilty based on this defense, she would be committed to a state mental facility and the term of her confinement there could be longer than the amount of time she would spend in prison, according to a defense attorney unaffiliated with the case.
Wierson last year asked to have her driving privileges restored so Wierson, a licensed psychologist, could see more clients. A judge denied that request. Her attorneys have argued Wierson was psychotic when the crash occurred, believing her daughter was in danger.
During the hearing on whether her driving privileges would be restored, her psychiatrist, William Mclarty, said his patient was able to drive and no longer needed to see him weekly. He’s been Wierson’s doctor since 2005 and explained that she has been diagnosed with a bipolar disorder.
“I think she’s competent to drive,” he said during the hearing in October. “I think she is not experiencing any symptoms of mania, hypomania or depression, other than situational and reasonable depression given the situation, and also some stress. I think she’s compliant with her medications … she has had increased motivation since this has happened to make sure she does not experience any further psychosis. She’s well educated, very intelligent and very aware of her illness.”
Wierson’s attorneys and the Jenness family didn’t return messages seeking comment. Her defense attorney in January filed a notice of intention to raise the issue of insanity. The prosecution subsequently requested an independent psychological evaluation.
LeeAnne Lynch, a local criminal defense attorney unaffiliated with the case, offered her opinion about why Wierson’s attorney didn’t plead insanity initially, opting instead to plead not guilty to the charges.
“They probably wanted some time to vet that idea as a defense, talk to their experts, make sure that’s something they could stand behind and defend, and see if there’s evidence,” she said. “It probably took them a while to jump through all those hoops they needed to jump through.”
Wierson could also be found guilty and sentenced to prison.
“They can say, ‘We don’t believe your insanity defense. We don’t feel she lacked the mental capacity to distinguish between right and wrong,’ or they can find her guilty but mentally ill,” Lynch said.
If she’s found not guilty by reason of insanity, her commitment could be longer than any prison sentence she would receive if she’s convicted.
Lynch said even though Wierson’s attorney is saying she’s now mentally stable, if she’s found not guilty by reason of insanity she would still be committed to a state mental facility. It would then be up to the court to decide whether she’s eligible for release. A judge would have to decide whether she’s a danger to herself or the community before ordering her release. If that doesn’t happen, she could be committed indefinitely, potentially for the rest of her life.
“It’s a serious choice to go that way as a defense attorney because your best-case scenario, your client is looking at found being not guilty and going into custody,” Lynch said. “It’s not something you would plead lightly.”
The criminal case against Wierson isn’t the only matter working its way through the courts. The Jenness family also filed a civil suit against Wierson and Toyota, the company that made the vehicle Jenness’ father was driving when the crash occurred.
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