A Sacramento judge ruled Tuesday that a man who stabbed and beat his mother to death – but was found not guilty by reason of insanity – is no longer dangerous and ordered his release from a state mental hospital.
Ronald Benjamin Toppila, 73, will now be transferred from Napa State Hospital to an unlocked facility in Manteca before his likely move sometime next year to an unsecured group home in Sacramento.
“This court finds that Ronald Toppila is no longer a danger to the health and safety of others, including himself, while under supervision and treatment in the community and will benefit from that status, so long as he remains medication compliant and adheres to his established relapse prevention plan,” Superior Court Judge David W. Abbott said in his five-page decision.
Abbott ordered Toppila’s release on conditions that he follow the rules laid out by the state’s Central Valley Conditional Release Program. CONREP officials must ensure that they have adequate staffing for whichever facility takes Toppila, who must remain under psychiatric care and receive his monthly anti-psychotic medication injections, the judge ruled.
The judge’s decision came after hearings earlier this year in which Napa officials testified that Toppila is “psychiatrically and behaviorally stable” and recommended that he be released into a community setting. CONREP then issued a report saying that it would have no difficulty accommodating him.
Robert Saria, the attorney who obtained Toppila’s release on behalf of his family, said the relatives are “very happy because they believe Ron is in a good place, that he is committed to his therapy, committed to his treatment, and they are committed to ensuring and working with him so that he will be a success story.”
“The judge here got it right,” Saria said.
Sacramento prosecutors opposed Toppila’s release, questioning the diagnosis given by Napa psychiatrists that he suffers only from major depression with severe psychotic features. They maintained Toppila is a paranoid schizophrenic.
“We understand and accept the court’s ruling, based upon the current law and the evidence presented at trial,” Deputy District Attorney Donell Slivka said in a prepared statement.
“Our concern is, and always has been, that his placement in the community recommended by CONREP is insufficient. Mr. Toppila will be released from a locked psychiatric hospital with full medical staff and 24-hour on site security and placed in an unlocked facility with no security and only a daytime visiting nurse. Mr. Toppila will have the ability to leave the premises at any time and be free in the community until he is found and returned to placement.”
Toppila slashed his mother 52 times with a box cutter and broke her ribs, larynx and jaw in the Oct. 7, 2004, attack in her South Land Park Drive apartment. Doctors said he killed his mother while experiencing “Capgas syndrome,” a psychotic delusion that her body had been inhabited by some outside force. A jury in May 2006 then found him not guilty by reason of insanity.
The verdict resulted in Toppila’s placement in the Napa mental hospital and qualified him for periodic hearings to determine if he had recovered his sanity and could be returned to a community setting. In November 2008, Judge Kevin J. McCormick rejected Toppila’s first bid for release.
In his ruling Tuesday, Abbott said that McCormick was justified in keeping Toppila locked up. McCormick based his decision five years ago on what he found to be inconsistencies between Napa’s clinical records and the testimony of Napa psychiatrists. McCormick found then that one of the Napa doctors, in recommending the patient’s release, had perjured himself in his assessment of Toppila’s psychiatric history.
Abbott said the recommendation for Toppila’s conditional release now “is warranted by the clinical record.” The judge warned, however, that Toppila is at risk of a psychotic relapse if he goes off his medication. “If his psychosis returns,” Abbott wrote, “so will his propensity for violence.”
Abbott said Toppila’s “risk of noncompliance has become insignificant,” as long as he keeps getting his monthly injections of anti-psychotic medication. Toppila has been “medication compliant,” Abbott said, since November 2009.
Once Toppila is released, “Adequate supervision by CONREP is essential in order to assure public safety,” Abbott said in his ruling. A CONREP official testified in August that Toppila would first be housed in the locked Northstar Program facility in Manteca for three to four months before he would be transferred to one of two group homes in Sacramento.
Rhonda Love, the community program director for the Harper Medical Group, which operates the Central Valley CONREP program for the state Department of Hospitals, declined at the hearing to identify the two group homes. She cited confidentiality concerns for the patients currently living in the homes.
Editor's note: An earlier version of this story mistakenly stated that Ronald Benjamin Toppila will be placed in a locked facility in Manteca. Toppila will be in an unlocked facility. Story was updated at 1 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 7.