Woman charged with killing father set for court hearing

Published 8:03 am Friday, June 17, 2016

Star File Photo Sonya Babb, shown here during a previous court appearance, is scheduled for a preliminary hearing today in General Sessions Court on a charge of first degree murder in the death of her father.

Star File Photo
Sonya Babb, shown here during a previous court appearance, is scheduled for a preliminary hearing today in General Sessions Court on a charge of first degree murder in the death of her father.

A Carter County woman charged with murder in the death of her father is scheduled to undergo a preliminary hearing in court today after a mental health evaluation showed she is capable of aiding in her defense but evaluators said she “was not able to appreciate the nature and wrongfulness” of her conduct.
Officers of the Carter County Sheriff’s Office arrested Sonya Elaine Babb, 54, of 155 McKeehan Ridge Road, in January and charged her with first degree murder in the death of her father, 77-year-old Kenneth Younce, a retired Carter County Constable.
Since her arrest, the subject of Babb’s mental health has been brought up multiple times as part of court proceedings in her case.
The Public Defender’s Office at first requested a mental health evaluation on Babb during a court appearance in February and Judge Keith Bowers Jr. later ordered the evaluation be completed. That same month, Carter County Sheriff Dexter Lunceford petitioned the court to transfer Babb to a state detention facility citing his opinion that the Carter County Detention Center was “insufficient” for the safekeeping of Babb due to her mental health status.
“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.” In his letter to the court, Lunceford noted that Babb has a history of hospitalizations for mental health issues.
Bowers granted the request by Lunceford and signed an “Order for Safekeeping” directing that Babb be transferred to the Tennessee Department of Correction’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.
After Bowers signed the Order for Safekeeping, Assistant Public Defender 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 signed a court order directing a mental health evaluation be performed on Babb by Volunteer Behavioral Health on February 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.
In a letter dated March 14, Sandra Phillips, Ph.D., forensics coordinator with Volunteer Behavioral Health, informed the court of the agency’s findings.
“After completion of the outpatient evaluation, I am recommending a referral to Middle Tennessee Mental Health Institute for an inpatient evaluation,” Phillips said.
On March 21, Bowers issued a court order directing an inpatient evaluation be performed on Babb at MTMHI. Babb was admitted to MTMHI on April 26 for the evaluation.
The results of that evaluation were filed with the Carter County General Sessions Court on June 6. MTMHI Forensic Services Coordinator Chris Loftis explained the agency’s findings in a letter to the court.
“After completion of the competency evaluation, the evaluation team is of the opinion that Ms. Babb’s condition is such that she is capable of adequately assisting her attorney in a court of law. In making this determination, it was concluded that she does understand the nature of the pending legal matter against her and the consequences which may follow, and she is able to advise counsel and participate in her own defense,” Loftis said. “With regard to Ms. Babb’s mental condition at the time of the alleged offense the recommendation of the evaluation staff is that she was not able to appreciate the nature and wrongfulness of her conduct pursuant to the provisions of (state law).”
“With regard to Ms. Babb’s mental condition — diminished capacity — at the time of the alleged offense, it is the opinion of the evaluation staff that she did not lack the capacity to form the requisite culpable mental state to commit the offenses,” Loftis continued. “The state are further of the opinion that Sonya Babb does not meet the standards of judicial commitment to a mental health institute pursuant to the provisions of (state law).”
After receiving the report from MTMHI, the court issued an order for Babb to be transferred back to Carter County for a court appearance and scheduled her for a preliminary hearing in General Sessions Court today. A preliminary hearing is a routine court proceeding when a person has been charged with a crime. The presiding judge holds a preliminary hearing to determine if enough probable cause or evidence exists for prosecution to continue.

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