Family tried to get Babb help on night before murder

Published 7:12 pm Friday, June 17, 2016

Star Photo/Abby Morris-Frye  Sonya Babb, at left, appeared in court with her attorney Assistant Public Defender Melanie Sellers, at right, for a preliminary hearing on Friday. Babb is charged with first degree murder in the shooting death of her father, Kenneth Younce.

Star Photo/Abby Morris-Frye
Sonya Babb, at left, appeared in court with her attorney Assistant Public Defender Melanie Sellers, at right, for a preliminary hearing on Friday. Babb is charged with first degree murder in the shooting death of her father, Kenneth Younce.

Family members of Sonya Babb, who is charged with first degree murder in the death of her father, testified in court Friday about Babb’s history of mental illness and how the family had attempted to get her help on the night before and the morning of the fatal shooting in January.
Officers of the Carter County Sheriff’s Office arrested Babb, 54, of 155 McKeehan Ridge Road, in January and charged her with first degree murder in the death of her father, Kenneth Younce, 77, a retired Carter County Constable.
Babb appeared in Carter County General Sessions Court on Friday morning for a preliminary hearing on the charge. Her sister, Donna Ornduff, and niece, Brooke Turner, took the stand to testify about the events of January 27 when Babb allegedly killed her own father.
A mental health evaluation was recently completed on Babb as part of her court proceedings. The evaluation report by the Middle Tennessee Mental Health Institute said Babb is currently capable of understanding the charges against her and assisting her lawyer with her defense, however it added that evaluation staff found “she was not able to appreciate the nature and wrongfulness of her conduct pursuant to the provisions of (state law).”
During their testimony, Ornduff and Turner spoke about Babb’s mental health issues, both on the day of the fatal shooting and in the years leading up to it. Both women said Babb had been battling mental illness since about 2010.
Ornduff said her sister had been hospitalized “seven or eight” times at both Woodridge psychiatric hospital and Lakeshore Mental Health Institute.
“We could not get her the help she needed,” Ornduff said, adding doctors had prescribed a variety of medications for Babb but nothing seemed to work.
Babb’s most recent mental health hospitalization occurred in December 2015, just about a month prior to the January 2016 shooting. At that time, Babb spent two weeks at Woodridge, Ornduff said.
“When they called us to release her from Woodridge we said we wanted to talk to a doctor,” Ornduff recalled. “He told us she was on TennCare and didn’t have any more money for her room.”
On January 26, Babb began having an episode of severe paranoia, Ornduff said.
“She was having a bad spell,” Ornduff said. “She was real paranoid. She thought someone was going to shoot her.”
Babb was crying and upset and her paranoia continued to grow that night, Ornduff said.
“As a last resort we took her to the Emergency Room,” Ornduff said.
While at the Sycamore Shoals Hospital Emergency Room, Ornduff said hospital staff brought a monitor to Babb and let her speak to a mental health professional by video conference but no mental health care professional was at the hospital to physically evaluate her sister in person.
“We begged for help,” Ornduff said. “They gave us one pill and sent her home. Even though we were begging for help they sent her home.”
In addition to giving the family a pill to have Babb take at home, Ornduff said staff told the family to contact Frontier Health, a mental health services provider, the following morning.
The next morning, Ornduff said her mother contacted Frontier health and was told it could take up to six weeks before they could assist Babb and directed her to call the Charlotte Taylor Center, which provides out-patient mental health services. Ornduff said her mother attempted to call the Charlotte Taylor Center but no one answered the phone.
“If you want to point your finger at someone, point it at Mountain States Health Alliance, point it at Woodridge and point it at Frontier Health,” Ornduff said. “They wouldn’t give her the help she needed and they wouldn’t listen to the family.”
Throughout the day on January 27, Babb’s condition began to deteriorate, Ornduff said, adding her sister began crying that her son Seth was dead and that her father Younce had killed him.
“She had it in her mind that he was dead,” Ornduff said, adding that Seth spoke to his mother on the phone and told her he was safe. “In her mental state it just wouldn’t sink in.”
Turner also testified about her aunt’s accusations that Younce had killed her son.
“I was at my parent’s house and he came up and said Sonya was having another episode,” Turner recalled. “He said Sonya had it in her head he had killed her son Seth.”
Turner said she asked her grandfather if his gun was secure at his house and asked him to go and take it out of the house just in case. She said he left to return to his house and she followed a few minutes later.
While the family was talking Turner said she could hear her aunt talking to herself in the bedroom. Then she said she heard what she thought sounded like the door to Younce’s gun chest hitting the wall. Turner said she asked her grandfather if he had gotten his gun out of the chest and he told her he had not.
“I heard her scream ‘Kenneth Wayne Younce’ really loud,” Turner said. “Sonya came out and she had the gun pointed in a firing stance.”
Turner said she screamed that Sonya had a gun and yelled for everyone to get out of the house.
“I got my mother in front of me and Papaw behind me,” Turner said, adding her grandfather had recently had surgery and was not able to move quickly. “I got my mom outside and went back to get my Papaw to see if I could do anything to help.”
When she got back to the door of the house, Turner said she could see her grandfather standing up looking at Babb, who was pointing the gun at him.
“He was just standing there and I knew he couldn’t move,” Turner said. “I went back and grabbed my mom and wrapped myself around her and got her off the porch because I knew the bullet could go through the wall.”
As she got her mother off the porch, Turner said she heard a gunshot and then her grandmother scream.
“I heard my grandmother yelling ‘You killed your dad,” Turner said.
Turner said she told her mother to run and call 911 and then ran to her own home to retrieve her own gun in order to protect her family.
When she got back to her grandparent’s house, Turner said her grandmother and Babb were outside. Her grandmother told her she had gotten the gun away from Babb and thrown it out into the yard. Turner said Babb began to move around and she was afraid her aunt was trying to find the gun.
“I had to draw my gun on her and said ‘Don’t move! Don’t move! At that point, she ran back inside the house,” Turner said. “I could hear her inside screaming ‘I had to do it. He killed my son.’”
Turner said she tried to get back inside the house to check on her grandfather and to make sure Babb did not have another weapon but the door was locked and she had to bust it in to get inside.
“I glanced at Papaw and I could tell he was gone,” Turner said. “I grabbed her and drug her outside. At that point she began fighting me. I had to throw her down on the ground and my gun fell out and she grabbed it.”
The two women then struggled for the gun, but Turner said she was able to regain control of her gun and detained Babb until police arrived.
Carter County Sheriff’s Office Sgt. Stacy McKinney, who investigated the shooting, also testified on Friday about what he saw at the scene and also about his interview with Babb later that evening.
“She asked me what I would do if it was my son, indicating she believed her son was dead,” McKinney said.
After McKinney assured her that her son was alive and safe, he said Babb claimed she had been physically and mentally abused her entire life by her father.
“She kept that claim up through the entire interview,” he said.
During her testimony, Ornduff said Younce had never been abusive to any member of the family, including Babb.
After testimony concluded, Assistant Public Defender Melanie Sellers, who represents Babb, said the details of the case do not support a charge of first degree murder because it does not meet the criteria for “premeditation.”
During her argument, Sellers read from state law defining “premeditation” as it relates to a charge of first degree murder. “‘Premeditation’ is an act done after the exercise of reflection and judgment. ‘Premeditation’ means that the intent to kill must have been formed prior to the act itself. It is not necessary that the purpose to kill preexist in the mind of the accused for any definite period of time,” Sellers said. “The mental state of the accused at the time the accused allegedly decided to kill must be carefully considered in order to determine whether the accused was sufficiently free from excitement and passion as to be capable of premeditation.”
Based on the testimony during the hearing, Sellers said it was clear that Babb’s mental state did not meet the requirements for premeditation.
“It is uncontroverted that Sonya Babb was screaming, crying, and saying things that were not true,” Sellers said. “It is uncontroverted that she was not using reflection and judgement and it is uncontroverted that she was in a state of excitement and passion.”
Sellers asked that the court bind the case over to the Grand Jury on the lesser charge of second degree murder.
Assistant Public Defender Todd Hull said it was the state’s position that premeditation did occur.
“The state would argue that the reflection built up during the day,” he said, referencing testimony that Babb had accused her father of killing her son several times throughout the day. Hull pointed out state law does not require the idea to be formed for “any definite period of time” in order for premeditation to exist.
After hearing the arguments from both the prosecution and the defense, Judge Keith Bowers Jr. said he found probable cause to support a charge of first degree murder and bound the case over to the grand jury on that charge. Babb is scheduled to make her first appearance in Carter County Criminal Court on Sept. 22.

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