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Mental health appraisal asked for murder defendant

Unlikely to stop prosecution
Posted at 7:43 PM, Oct 21, 2019
and last updated 2019-10-22 13:27:30-04

TUCSON, Ariz. - The attorney for accused killer Susan Barksdale wants her mental health reviewed.

She and her husband Blane are facing charges in the disappearance and death of Frank Bligh.

They spent 16 days as fugitives after escaping a prisoner transfer van.

KGUN9 asked a criminal defense attorney -- how Susan Barksdale's mental health could affect her prosecution.

Anyone about to stand trial for murder has plenty of reason to be upset, but Susan Barksdale has shown special distress, often spending court appearances in tears.

She and her husband Blane are charged in the disappearance and death of Frank Bligh. His body has never been found.

The Barksdales took off before Tucson Police could arrest them. US Marshals found them in upstate New York.

No one's disputed that they escaped from private contractors bringing them back to Tucson. After sixteen day Marshals found them again in Northern Arizona.

Now Susan Barksdale's attorney is asking a judge to have her mental health checked out.

The motion from attorney Benjamin Mendola says, "...Mrs. Barksdale does not seem to fully understand the charges against her or the important decisions that she needs to make."

He says she's prone to panic attacks and that the Pima County Jail has not been giving her the medication she needs to manage depression and anxiety.

Attorney Natasha Wrae is not involved with the Barksdale case. She says an attorney needs a client thinking clearly enough to help with the case.

She says, “If you're not getting that and you're seeing a lot of emotional reaction, or they just don't seem to understand the question. Then you have an ethical duty to actually look into it and say, do we have a much more serious underlying issue here?"

Wrae says it's very rare for mental health concerns to stop a trial but they could lead to delays.

She says once a defendant gets on the right medication they often recover enough to help with their defense.