Sanity key in DUI murder case

Tiffiny Gillette, 26, seen here with Adam Simms. The two were

The Gilroy woman in custody for murder charged with killing her husband and daughter in a drunken car crash 10 months ago has claimed she is mentally incompetent to withstand trial, stalling criminal proceedings, but not yet convincing the judge or the victims’ friends and family of her incapacity.

Stacy Lonnberg, 51, sat silently in court Tuesday afternoon in San Jose as Judge Ron Del Pozzo determined that a third psychologist should evaluate Lonnberg before the court can make a decision regarding her mental wellness.

Lonnberg’s husband Fred Lonnberg, 57, and her daughter Tiffiny Gillette, 26, died when Stacy was driving under the influence and rolled the family’s pickup truck on Highway 85 in Los Gatos on Jan. 14, 2012, according to the California Highway Patrol. Lonnberg’s blood-alcohol content measured twice the legal limit at 0.16.

Lonnberg claimed she was mentally incompetent for trial in September. After two doctors issued contradicting  written opinions on Lonnberg’s readiness for trial, the judge decided to halt proceedings until Nov. 28 after a third, “tie breaking” doctor weighs-in.

On Sept. 14, one court-ordered doctor, Andrea Shelley, reported that Lonnberg was not competent for trial, a conclusion that confused Del Pozzo, based on the content of her report.

“I felt the substance of the report did not match the conclusion. That’s the first time I’ve seen that,” Del Pozzo said in court on Tuesday.

The judge appointed a second doctor to evaluate Lonnberg, Brent Hughey, who had very similar substance in his report, according to Del Pozzo on Tuesday, but came to an opposite conclusion – that Lonnberg is in fact, mentally sound enough to withstand trial.

About nine family members and loved ones of Fred Lonnberg and Tiffiny Gillette sat in the courtroom, shaking their heads and sighing as the bailiff escorted Lonnberg into the courtroom.

Before she was brought out, Lonnberg’s defense attorney had asked the judge to waive Lonnberg’s appearance, a request that was debated behind closed doors between judge and attorneys for more than an hour.

“What a coward,” one of the family members whispered to another when they learned that she might not appear.

But the judge ultimately summoned her. Lonnberg, handcuffed and dressed in red jail garb, sat with her back to the courtroom audience, looking at the floor. Her shoulder-length hair appeared to have grayed since her booking photo from January, in which she had blond hair. She did not once glance behind her during the 15-minute proceeding.

After the hearing, Fred Lonnberg’s former wife, 57-year-old Linda Lonnberg, stood outside the courtroom with her daughter, Jennifer.

“He was a good man,” Linda said, her eyes welling with tears. “My kids don’t deserve to go through all of this. They didn’t deserve to lose their dad, and there is no closure for them until all of this is over.”

Linda said she hopes that the trial begins soon, and that Lonnberg is prosecuted for the murder charge.

“I know these things take time, and I’m glad they are trying to be fair. It’s just hard to see it go on and on. I just pray a lot and hope it all works out,” Linda said.

Adam Simms, 48, said he is still grieving the loss of his fiancé, Tiffiny.

“There is nothing mentally unstable about Stacy. She is just avoiding trial, trying to get out of the whole thing,” Simms said, his voice quivering and gaining volume. “Trust me, she is more than sane.”

Simms softened, his eyes glazing over.

“I just don’t know if this will ever be over for me,” he said.

Lonnberg is in custody on two counts of murder and one count of child endangerment, as her 3-year-old grandson (Tiffiny’s son) was in the pickup at the time of the wreck but suffered no major injuries, said the prosecuting attorney, Matthew Braker.

Lonnberg told CHP officers after the crash that she had drank one Bloody Mary and popped an oxycodone on an empty stomach before taking her family for a drive at 3 p.m.

Lonnberg sped up to 85 mph and sideswiped another vehicle while trying to change lanes, causing her Toyota Tacoma to flip multiple times on the freeway.

Immediately afterwards, CHP officers alleged that Lonnberg showed little remorse for causing the crash. When she learned that her daughter Tiffiny had been ejected from the car because she wasn’t wearing a seat belt, CHP officers say that Lonnberg replied “Well, that’s her fault,” and appeared more concerned over who would feed her cats and horses while she was in custody than the fate of her family.

Tiffiny was pronounced dead the scene, and Lonnberg’s husband was pronounced dead hours later at Valley Medical Center.                                                                                                                                            

The District Attorney’s office originally charged Lonnberg with manslaughter, and she bailed out on a $100,000 bail four days after the accident, Braker said. Lonnberg was re-arrested on Jan. 25 after prosecutors upped the charges to murder.

If convicted, Lonnberg could face a minimum of 15 years in prison.

The next court hearing, when the judge will ultimately determine if Lonnberg is fit for trial, is set for Nov. 28 at 1:30 p.m. in San Jose.

Jan. 14 – Stacy Lonnberg crashes her truck on Highway 85 near Los Gatos with a 0.16 blood alcohol content. Lonnberg’s husband and daughter are killed. Lonnberg arrested for manslaughter and placed in custody.
Jan. 18 – Lonnberg bailed out for $100,000.
Jan. 25 – Lonnberg re-arrested after prosecutors upped her charges to murder – placed in custody where she remains today.
Feb. 23 – Lonnberg scheduled to enter a plea in Santa Clara County court in San Jose, but defense requested a delay.  
March 26 – Another plea scheduled. Lonnberg appeared, but made no plea. Date pushed back to June 23 on defense’s request.
June 23 – Plea hearing delayed.
Sept. 12 – Lonnberg again in court to enter a plea, but claims she is mentally unstable for trial. She is assigned a court-ordered doctor to evaluate her. A second psychologist opinion clashes with the first.
Oct. 30 – A third “tie-breaking” doctor is assigned to evaluate Lonnberg’s mental wellness to withstand a trial.
Nov. 28 – A once-and-for-all opinion about Lonnberg’s mental stability will be made by the judge, with all three doctor opinions in mind.

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