Mentally ill killer could live in Manteca, then Sacramento

Published: Friday, Aug. 2, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 1B
Last Modified: Friday, Aug. 2, 2013 - 6:37 am

If he succeeds in gaining his release from Napa State Hospital, a state-contracted agency has a new home lined up for a onetime Sacramento man who stabbed and beat his mother to death nine years ago.

The Central Valley Conditional Release Program has already begun arrangements to have Ronald Benjamin Toppila transferred to an unlocked transitional living facility in Manteca, an official with the agency testified Thursday.

Toppila, who killed his mother in 2004 but was found not guilty by reason of insanity at his trial two years later, would stay at the Northstar Program facility at 401 S. Airport Way in Manteca for only three or four months, the conditional release program's Rhonda Love told a Sacramento Superior Court judge Thursday.

After that, Toppila would be transferred to one of two board and care homes in Sacramento, which also are unsecured but are monitored by the Harper Medical Group, of which Love is the community program director.

Harper is a for-profit agency in Sacramento that administers the regional conditional release program on contract with the California State Department of Hospitals. Love testified that Harper is paid $18,000 per year by the state for each of the 72 outpatient clients it monitors – 73 if Toppila is released.

In a brief interview after her testimony, Love declined to identify the locations of the two Sacramento homes where Toppila might wind up, saying she needed to protect the confidentiality of the conditional release program clients who are living in them.

All the program's clients, like Toppila, have histories of violence. They were placed in the homes after being processed through the criminal justice system or as a result of civil commitments, Love testified.

Love was testifying in a hearing in which Judge David W. Abbott will ultimately determine if Toppila, who is now 74, can get out of the state psychiatric hospital in Napa. Abbott could make his decision on Toppila's release as soon as next Friday.

The hearings in front of Abbott are Toppila's second attempt to be released from Napa. Like the first effort, this one has been endorsed by psychiatrists at the state hospital who testified in May on Toppila's behalf.

Judge Kevin J. McCormick denied Toppila's request in 2009. In biting comments issued from the bench in making his ruling, he said one of the psychiatrists who testified in front of him "clearly committed perjury" in his account of what he knew about Toppila and how he came to know it. Officials in the state Department of Mental Health said then they planned to review the testimony of the psychiatrist, Dr. Nathan Thuma.

The outcome of the review was never made public.

Sacramento prosecutors are fighting Toppila's bid to be released from Napa. They say Toppila is a paranoid schizophrenic who remains a danger to society.

The Napa psychiatrists disagree. They testified that Toppila suffers from major depression with psychotic tendencies, but that he understands the nature of his mental illness and that he is capable of treating it with medications.

Toppila killed his mother, Hilma Tone, 86, in her South Land Park apartment on Oct. 7, 2004, stabbing and slashing her 52 times with a box cutter and breaking her jaw, larynx and some of her ribs when he beat her.

At the time of the killing, Toppila suffered from Capgras syndrome, a delusional disorder that made him think his mother had been taken over by an impostor. He was charged with murder, but a jury in 2006 found him not guilty by reason of insanity.

The verdict resulted in Toppila's indefinite placement in Napa.

It also qualified him for hearings every three years to determine if he recovered his mental faculties and whether he can be returned to the community in the conditional release program.

In a June 10 report, Love recommended that Toppila "be conditionally released into our outpatient community treatment program."

"He has engaged in treatment," Love testified Thursday. "He has his knowledge of his mental illness. He has implemented a wellness and recovery program. He knows how to get help."

If Judge Abbott grants the release, Love said, "I have a placement holding" for Toppila, "and that is the Northstar program." She said Toppila would continue to get treatment there, "while interfacing with the community on levels that will gradually move toward independence."

She described Northstar as an unlocked, 12- to 16-bed facility "designed for medical treatment."

She said Toppila would be on restricted status when he first moves in to the facility, but he would be able to walk out at any time. However, she said, "police would be called" and he would be subject to arrest, then a return to Napa.

He could eventually be allowed into the community for up to five hours a day without supervision, Love testified.

She said the state has assessed Toppila at a low risk for violence, but that it would be his responsibility to take his medications and "to make sure his mental illness is managed."

Call The Bee's Andy Furillo, (916) 321-1141. Follow him on Twitter @andyfurillo.

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