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63-year-old Racine woman charged in the death of her son found incompetent a second time

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RACINE — A woman, charged with a felony for allegedly allowing her disabled adult son to die on the floor after a fall, was found incompetent for a second time and proceedings in the case were suspended during a competency hearing held Monday in Racine County Circuit Court.

Cheryl Christensen

Christensen

Cheryl Christensen, 63, was charged with negligently subjecting an at-risk individual to abuse-causing death after her son was found dead on the floor of a bathroom on Oct. 28, 2020.

The 46-year-old man suffered brain and physical injuries after being struck by a car when he was 14 years old. Christensen was serving as his caregiver.

The defendant was also charged with misdemeanor counts of disorderly conduct and resisting/obstructing officers who came to the house to investigate.

A person is deemed competent to stand trial when they are able to understand the proceedings, the charges against them and to participate in their own defense.

Being ruled not competent to stand trial is different than being ruled not guilty by reason of mental defect, where the defendant’s mental state at the time of the offense is closely examined, as is their ability to tell right from wrong.

Christensen was taken into custody after Monday’s competency hearing and will be transferred to Mendota Mental Health Institute for treatment. Proceedings in the case will continue if she is found competent after treatment.

Competency

Christensen challenged the findings that she was not competent to stand trial — even though the matter was raised by her own attorney, Carl Johnson.

Dr. Jenna Goebel, the psychologist who made the determination, addressed the court via Zoom.

Goebel testified the defendant was able to regain competency during her last confinement in Mendota Mental Health Institute with the use of antipsychotic drugs. However, once she left the institute she stopped taking the medication and once again began demonstrating signs of paranoia and other delusions.

Goebel said the defendant could regain competency with treatment, as before.

Judge Eugene Gasiorkiewicz ruled the defendant was not competent to stand trial and ordered her back into custody for transfer to Mendota Mental Health Institute over the request of the defense, who asked that she be allowed to attend out-patient restorative treatment.

As if to prove the doctor’s point, after the hearing Christensen made a long, rambling statement that was only partially understandable.

Throughout the case proceedings, the defendant has struggled in court, especially with the rules. At one point she taken into custody on a charge of contempt of court for talking loudly over other people in the courtroom. After she was removed, she continued to shout from the hallway.

Johnson was initially represented by Jamie McClendon, who withdrew from the case.

Christensen has been uncooperative with the attorneys appointed to represent her. She has requested — unsuccessfully — to be allowed to represent herself multiple times throughout the proceedings.

The previous judge hearing the case, Judge Wynn Laufenberg, told her she was not competent to represent herself.

Gasiorkiewicz told her on Monday he “would not entertain a pro-se” request.

Case history

Police responded to the 2600 block of West Crescent Street on October 28, 2020 for a welfare check on the defendant’s 46-year-old son after relatives became worried about his well-being and called authorities.

When police arrived at Christensen’s residence, they found that she was attempting to barricade the door.

After gaining entrance to the residence, they found Christensen’s son dead on the floor of the bathroom, covered with a blanket.

The defendant allegedly told police her son had fallen out of bed several days prior. He was screaming in pain and she believed he had broken bones.

She could not get him back into his wheelchair, so she dragged him to the bathroom, and gave him pills to help ease the pain.

Christensen told police that she provided the victim with water and juice for about four days before she claimed that he began refusing sustenance.

Christensen allegedly told investigators she did not call for help because she did not want her son to die in a hospital; she wanted him to die peacefully at home.

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Reporter

Dee Hölzel has been reporting since 1999 and joined the Journal Times in October 2020. Dee graduated with an MA in History from the University of Wisconsin - Milwaukee, specializing in the intersection of history and journalism.

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