Murder suspect to undergo mental health evaluation

Published 9:11 am Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Star File Photo Sonya Babb, seen here at a February court appearance, has been transferred to the Tennessee Prison For Women.

Star File Photo
Sonya Babb, seen here at a February court appearance, has been transferred to the Tennessee Prison For Women.

A court appearance for a Carter County woman charged with murdering her father has been postponed as the court awaits the results of a mental health evaluation.
Sonya Elaine Babb, 54, of 155 McKeehan Ridge Road, was scheduled to appear in Carter County General Sessions Court on Tuesday but that court hearing was rescheduled for April 29. Babb faces a charge of first degree murder in the death of her father, 77-year-old Kenneth Younce, a retired Carter County Constable.
Babb’s attorney, Assistant Public Defender Jim Lonon, filed a request for a mental health evaluation with the court on Feb. 1, which was granted by Judge Keith Bowers Jr. Then, on Feb. 12, Public Defender Jeff Kelly asked the court to rescind the order for the evaluation.
“I am asking the Court to withdraw our order for a mental health evaluation on Ms. Sonya Babb,” Kelly said in an e-mail to the Circuit Court Clerk’s Office. “We will address a mental health evaluation at a later date.”
The day before Kelly asked the court to withdraw the order for an evaluation, Carter County Sheriff Dexter Lunceford sent a letter to the court requesting that Babb be removed from the Carter County Detention Center and be transferred to a state correctional facility. In that letter, Lunceford cited Babb’s behavior as one of the reasons for the request and said he felt the CCDC is “insufficient for the safekeeping” of Babb.
“Since Ms. Babb’s incarceration, her mental health status has proven extremely difficult. Ms. Babb urinates on herself, refuses to shower, and often refuses to eat,” Lunceford said. “Ms. Babb spends hours screaming and yelling. When encountered by jail staff, Ms. Babb expresses paranoia that jail staff are attempting to kill her.”
Lunceford notes in his letter that Babb has a history of mental health hospitalizations.
“Due to the nature of the charges against Ms. Babb and the ongoing difficulties presented by her exhibited behaviors, we are of the opinion that the Carter County Detention Center is insufficient for the safekeeping of this prisoner, and that she should be placed at a Tennessee Department of Corrections facility for safekeeping until such time as her condition improves or her custody status changes,” Lunceford said.
On Feb. 12, the same day Kelly withdrew the request for an evaluation, Bowers signed an “Order for Safekeeping” directing that Babb be transferred to the TDOC’s Tennessee Prison for Women at the state penitentiary in Nashville.
“The defendant’s mental health and behavioral issues are severe, and she should be transported as soon as reasonably possible,” Bowers noted in the order.
The Sheriff’s Office transported Babb from the CCDC to the Tennessee Prison for Women on Feb. 22.
On Feb. 19, Assistant District Attorney Melanie Sellers sent letters to the District Attorney’s Office and the Carter County Sheriff’s Office, as well as filing a copy with the court, requesting that the Sheriff’s Office preserve as evidence all video recordings of Babb from the CCDC.
“While it is very early in the case, there is certainly the possibility that such evidence could prove exculpatory or helpful to the defense as it may relate to competency, insanity, and other mental health related issues,” Sellers said in her letter to the District Attorney. “We thought it best to make the request early rather than run the risk that the evidence may be inadvertently destroyed.”
Bowers issued another court order directing that a mental health evaluation be conducted on Babb on Feb. 26. Under the terms of the court order, Babb is to be evaluated for her competency to stand trial, her mental condition at the time of the alleged crime, her need for mental health treatment and whether or not she suffers from a diminished mental capacity.
The process to complete the mental health evaluation and for the District Attorney’s Office and Public Defender’s Office to receive and review the results usually takes about 45 days.
The charges against Babb stem from an investigation into a reported shooting at 153 McKeehan Ridge Road on Jan. 27. When officers arrived at the home, witnesses said Babb had shot her father in the chest with a .40 caliber pistol.
According to police, during an interview with investigators Babb admitted to shooting her father with his own gun.
“When I asked Sonya Babb why she shot him, she stated it was because she believed that Kenneth Younce had killed her son, Seth Babb. I assured Sonya Babb that her son was alive,” CCSO Sgt. Stacy McKinney said. “Then later in the conversation I asked her why she killed her father Kenneth Younce again, and she stated it was because of the way he has abused us and never said that he was sorry.”

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