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3rd opinion ordered on Mahoney's competency Woman is charged in infant son's killing

Two psychiatrists have testified that Shauna E. Mahoney is competent to stand trial for smothering her infant son to death, but Niagara County Judge Sara Sheldon Sperrazza said Wednesday she wants a third opinion.

At the close of a competency hearing, Sperrazza ordered another mental evaluation of Mahoney.

Mahoney, 20, of Laughlin Drive, Niagara Falls, called 911 the night of Sept. 5 and announced that she had just killed her son, 19-month-old Trevor Schneider. She told police it took her about 20 minutes to do so by putting her hands over the child's face on the couch. She is charged with second-degree murder.

Wednesday's witness, Dr. Brian S. Joseph, testified that he found Mahoney competent during a Sept. 20 interview. Joseph, who also treated Mahoney during a brief jail term she served last spring after a misdemeanor conviction, said he'd talked to her once or twice since the formal competency interview, in his role as a part-time jail psychiatrist.

Besides his work for Niagara County, he's been doing forensic psychiatry for Erie County for 25 years and also is director of psychiatry for Independent Health.

"While I felt she was depressed and suffering from a major mental illness, she still retained [understanding of] the nature of the charges against her and the ability to help [the defense]," Joseph told defense attorney Michael W. McNelis.

Joseph said he agreed with other psychiatrists that Mahoney suffers from major depressive disorder.

However, he also testified that Mahoney's competency might depend on the state of her medication and was subject to change during an emotionally stressful episode -- such as a trial.

Competency "is a dynamic issue," Joseph said. "A criminal trial is emotionally stressful and could have an impact on her mental state."

Although neither side asked for another mental evaluation for Mahoney, neither objected to it, either.

Assistant District Attorney Claudette S. Caldwell said, "I'd rather resolve the issue now, since she is on medication, rather than have it come up again later."

McNelis said, "I think the third doctor would make the judge's decision much easier."

When the hearing began Oct. 12, Dr. Prabhakar R. Gumbula, clinical director of the Attica Mental Health Unit, testified that he found Mahoney competent in a Sept. 17 interview. However, he was unable to supply the exact reasons for his decision, saying he didn't remember exactly what Mahoney said.

Joseph wrote in his report that Mahoney was competent but also called her "incapacitated and lacking the capacity to assist in her defense," a seemingly contradictory finding that neither lawyer asked him about Wednesday.

Sperrazza called the lawyers back to court Dec. 14, and she will address the third competency report then.

e-mail: tprohaska@buffnews.com

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