Suspect not competent to stand trial in Cukor murder

KTVU broadcast this image of Daniel Jordan Dewitt

Daniel Jordan DeWitt, who was charged with the Feb. 18 Berkeley hills murder of Peter Cukor, is not mentally competent to stand trial, a judge ruled Thursday.

Two doctors examined DeWitt and both concluded the 23-year old did not understand the charges filed against him nor could he help in his own defense, Assistant Public Defender Brian Bloom told the San Francisco Chronicle.

DeWitt will return to court April 13 when Alameda County Judge Sandra Beam will remand him to a state mental hospital for treatment, according to the Oakland Tribune. The idea is to return him to mental competency so he can stand trial.

DeWitt, who was not at Thursday’s hearing, has a long history of mental illness and has been in and out of mental institutions since he was diagnosed with schizophrenia when he was 18, according to his parents.

In the last few months, he has been so paranoid that he would not open his apartment door to his parents but would only whisper to them through the door, according to a statement released by his parents Al and Candy DeWitt.

“It was horribly painful to watch, to know and to see what he was going through and not be able to bring him any real help,” said the statement.

Candy DeWitt said Thursday evening that she and her husband were “relieved” by the ruling because their son is “very, very ill.”

They called on Alameda and other counties to adopt “Laura’s Law,” which would allow courts to order mentally ill individuals to take medication as a condition of remaining in the community. Only two counties in California have adopted the law, which is set to expire in December 2012.

Here is the DeWitts’ statement:

“Our hearts go out to the Cukor family. We cannot find words that say how deeply saddened we are. A man’s life has been taken and now there is a family that is left with terrible suffering. We are so very sorry.

We grieve for our son Daniel whose life is forever changed by actions he cannot understand and who is so ill that we have not been able to see him.

If you do not have someone in your life with mental illness, it would be hard for you to imagine what it is like to watch helplessly as your son loses his life to such a devastating disease as paranoid schizophrenia and with  little ability  to make a difference given our current mental health system and  laws.

In the last months, as Daniel became increasingly ill, he could only whisper to us through his apartment door.  He feared people could hear him.   He thought people were following him, watching him, poisoning him.   He could not sleep.    It was horribly painful to watch, to know and to see what he was going through and not be able to bring him any real help.

This is the same boy that loved fishing, played endlessly in the fields as a young boy making forts, catching lizards, riding bikes and later, was an all-league football player, a talented writer and a passionate lover of music.

Daniel has been in and out of the hospital over the last four years, a situation known by everyone in the system as “revolving door” for the chronically ill.   The qualifications for an involuntary hold (an imminent danger to self or others or gravely disabled) did not allow Daniel to receive the involuntary treatment that would have helped him.

And although we met wonderful, dedicated staff and health professional along the way that worked tirelessly to help, their hands were most often tied by the laws and qualifications for an involuntary hold.

Daniel did not understand he was sick.  Doctors call this condition  Anosognosia (lack of insight into one’s illness).    It is not that the person is being difficult or refusing to face the truth, but the person is unable to believe and understand that he has an illness.   Because of this, he does not see reason to take medication.

When a person’s brain isn’t working, they don’t know that.  They do not realize what is happening to them.   Yet our current system allows them to make critical decisions about their treatment which we know are based on flawed thinking and can have devastating consequences.

From the 1st signs of illness, we worked very hard to find treatment for Daniel and joined groups and programs where we could learn more.  However families cannot make a difference alone, we need help.

We were devastated in December when a hearing officer release our son against our stated wishes and against the Doctor’s recommendation for continued treatment.  We’re yet again heartbroken, yet again afraid.

Laura’s Law, also known as Assisted Outpatient Treatment,  allows courts to require some individuals with severe mental illness to stay in treatment as a condition for living in the community.     This law expires on Dec 31, 2012 and is currently adopted only in two counties in CA.  Legislators should pass the extension of Laura’s LawAB1569 and all counties should adopt this law.     We need to look for ways to help people stay in treatment & out of the hospital and jail.

This tragedy did not need to happen.

Al and Candy DeWitt

Community gathers in wake of murder: quizzes Berkeley police [03.09.12]

Berkeley police: We responded properly to Cukor’s murder [03.02.12]
Councilmember calls public meeting after Berkeley murder [02.29.12]
Murder suspect trial delayed for psychological assessment [02.24.12]
Murder suspect was looking for fictional girlfriend [02.23.12]
Councilmember: unanswered questions over murder [02.23.12]
Alleged killer had been in and out of mental institutions [02.21.12]
Berkeley hills neighbors react with shock to brutal murder [02.20.12]
Intruder assaults, kills homeowner on Grizzly Peak [02.19.12]

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  • Carlacjac

    Al and Candy….I am so sorry your son and family and Peter’s family are going through this.  Our treatment laws are completely wrong.  Our family went through this 20 yrs ago and I apologize that nothing has changed since.  My email address is  May I help? 

  • Tcpasquini

    Dear Al and Candy,

    My heart breaks for your family, the Cukor family and our community.I too am so very sorry that this has happened. I am a neighbor of yours in Contra Costa County. We share similar experiences and our sons have the same name, Daniel.  By luck, my Daniel lives today in a State Hospital on an LPS Conservatorship rather than a forensic commitment. By luck my son has received some form of treatment for his severe psychiatric illness for the past 13 years. We must stop making the treatment of those with psychiatric illnesses a game of chance. We are on the same team that we didn’t want to join. Please reach out to Carla for help and know that you have neighbors, near and far, connected to your pain trying to shine a light on the sick system that often won’t help until it is too late. We are with you. 

  • Sad

    It makes you wonder why a person who was apparently this clearly detached from reality was allowed to wander our streets and neighborhoods unsupervised in the middle of the night. A tragic story all around. A massive failure of the system.

  • If you want someone to blame, look around you: Americans are so fixated with individual rights, that, on the far right, we let loonies carry handguns of mass destruction, and on the left, somehow its wrong to infringe a mentally disturbed person’s right to wander our streets.  This is part and parcel of some kind of liberal guilt or discomfort about taking responsibility and recognizing some folks as just not able to function properly, so instead, we let the rest of the populace suffer the risk – with predictable consequences.

  • Bruce Love

    That account of things is blind to history.  Massive “deinstitutionalization” was driven by both the right (cost savings) and the center (curtailing a long, well documented pattern of abuse of the institutionalization regimes we used to have).

    I don’t mean that the regime we currently have is in any way “perfected”.   I do remain that it isn’t trivial to know what improvements to make or how best to fund it.   It’s simply too reductionist to reduce this to “liberal guilt”.

  • Central Berkeley Mama

    Al & Candy – This is the most thorough, thoughtful and fully compassionate statement by parents in this situation that I have ever read.  I can only imagine the grief and hear break you have borne along with the Cukor family.  Sending you peace and deep respect. 

  • Berkeley Law student

    Well. What can I say? Sorrow on both sides of this story. This is something that can’t be prevented, unfortunately. Mentally ill folks can’t all be institutionalized. Not all of them are violent or even potentially violent. But sometimes, these things happen – the best thing is to not confront strangers.

    Not sure if even that is a solution. Very sad situation.

  • bgal4

    You are a law student? did you miss the point of this statement,  there is a call for action, if you want to help families like the Dewitts call your state representatives and advocate for:

    1. Extending  Laura’s Law
    2. Revise the law to mandate county compliance. 

  • I’m Jes’ Sayin’

     Does the statement have to mean the same thing to Berkeley Law student as it did to you?

  • bgal4

    If Law student is truly a law student he should have been at least mildly interested in the legislative solution the Dewitt are asking citizens to support.

    You comment asking me if people extract different messages from the family statement seems irrelevant, I think it is relevant that a poster claiming to be  law student who is misrepresenting the status of mental health services by saying:

    “This is something that can’t be prevented, unfortunately. Mentally ill folks can’t all be institutionalized.’

    Not all mentally ill folks NEED to be institutionalized,  Laura’s Law is targeted for those where the medical evidence proves otherwise.

    Full disclosure, I  have been in this position and am so grateful to the expert  psychiatrist in L.A county mental health who assisted our family in 1995 with the incredibly challenging step of 5150/5250  our father. He was wise, kind and realistic.

    Life is hard enough, but when the laws obstruct families  and cause more harm than good,  we need to revise the laws.

  • Still Jes’ Sayin’

    As a very wise friend of mine once cautioned, “Judge not lest ye be courted.”

  • bgal4

     TL is this another one of your fake handles?

  • Bruce Love

    Another?   I use none but this one.

  • Charles_Siegel

     How about “dasht”?

  • Bruce Love

    That was the (only) one I used (quite a while ago now) before this one existed. 

  • Hatemanjr

    Only in Berkeley will you find people who feel just as sympathetic for the murderer  as they do for the murdered..Of course anyone one of  sympathizers you had this happen to  a love one taken from you like this killer did you wouldn’t be shedding these crocodile tears of yours. you people live in a bubble that one day will pop.

  • Voxhumana

    Was there a close quote there somewhere and I missed it?

  • Voxhumana

    Reagan defunded public health in the early eighties. Community mental health suffered greatly.

  • Berkeley Resident

    The guy is mentally ill and for some reason allowed to run freely around town.  So, it is logical to feel sympathy for him and his family.  Do you understand what it means to be mentally ILL?!!