Seventeen years ago, Mathew Beck suffered a psychotic break and went on a violent rampage at home, stabbing to death two Rohnert Park women he knew in an attack that ended with him being found not guilty by reason of insanity.
After a dozen years in state mental institutions, he was placed in a Sonoma County outpatient program that allowed him to live free of hospital walls but under close supervision of therapists and social workers.
Now, Beck, 43, wants all strings removed. In a trial before Judge Elliot Daum, he maintains he’s no longer a danger to himself or others and is asking jurors to find that his sanity has been restored.
His lawyer told the six-man, six-woman panel, Beck “went back to normal” within weeks of the double killing and has not for a moment relapsed into violence.
“He’s been that way to the present day,” attorney Karen Silver told jurors Wednesday as Beck listened from the defense table clad in a white V-neck sweater. “There is no evidence of any further illness.”
Prosecutors are objecting to his unconditional release from the program that oversees people deemed insane or incompetent on the grounds that he presents a continued safety risk. Exact details are expected to come out in court.
Under the law, it is presumed he still poses a danger, Daum told jurors at the start of the trial on Wednesday. It is Beck’s burden to prove he is safe.
Beck is in rare company. Few people involved in homicides in Sonoma County have been freed using the insanity defense.
Those who are found to have been suffering a psychotic break at the time of their crimes or deemed mentally incompetent to stand trial usually are institutionalized for many years, if not their entire lives.
Among the most recent to be sent away was Julia Franzen of Sebastopol, who stabbed to death her mother, Nancy Franzen, 59, in 2013.
The following year she was found not guilty by reason of insanity and committed to Napa State Hospital.
But they can get out if doctors conclude they are no longer dangerous. And they won’t be tried later for the killings because their mental condition impaired their ability to know right from wrong.
“That’s the law,” said Sonoma County Public Defender Kathleen Pozzi, who previously represented Beck. “At the time the crime occurred, you were not legally responsible for your actions. So you can’t be tried again.”
Back in 2000, he was living with his uncle in Rohnert Park after being kicked out of the Air Force when he began hearing voices and suffering delusions.
He was watching TV when he grabbed a kitchen knife and stabbed to death his uncle’s fiancee, Sandra Napier, 36, and her mother, Marcella Napier, 63.
At the time of his arrest, Beck made a number of bizarre statements, including that he killed the women because he believed they were evil spirits.
After extensive examinations, he was deemed legally insane and ordered to be held in a mental institution until his mental health was restored.
Within a few years, doctors reported he made significant progress. He applied three times for placement in the outpatient program known as Conrep before his request was granted in 2012.