Suspect In Eastern State Hospital Murder Competent To Stand Tria - NBC Right Now/KNDO/KNDU Tri-Cities, Yakima, WA |

Suspect In Eastern State Hospital Murder Competent To Stand Trial

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SPOKANE, Wash – It's been nearly five months since a psychiatric patient at Eastern State Hospital in Medical Lake murdered another patient by strangling him; and now, psychologists have deemed Amber Roberts is competent to stand trial.

Court records show Roberts was admitted to Western State Hospital near Tacoma to undergo an evaluation to determine whether she is competent to stand trial.  The assessment included her family history, past drug use and mental illness among other factors.  Records show Roberts has three young children, but does not have custody of either of them.  She admitted to two suicide attempts when she was a teenager, and a long-history of drug abuse including meth, cocaine, heroin, LSD, hallucinogenic mushrooms, opiates and abusing lighter fluid.

Her mother said when Roberts was on drugs she'd become physically aggressive, kicking and hitting people.

Roberts told evaluators she was diagnosed as bi-polar and schizophrenic, and "I stay in the Bible," and "God wants me to tell the truth."

Evaluators determined she "appears to possess the capacity to have a factual and a rational understanding of the charges and court proceedings she faces.  She also appears to have the capacity to consult with her attorney with a reasonable degree of rational understanding, and to assist her attorney in her defense."

Court records show Roberts was found pacing the hallway in the middle of the night November 20, 2012, when she told a staffer "I murdered someone but you'll have to find him."

Public records from the Department of Social and Health Services reveal the first-hand accounts of what happened that night, by two staff members called to the room. 

Roberts "stopped me and said, ‘I killed someone, do you believe me?'" and later "'I strangled him with an electrical cord, and he put up a struggle,'" wrote the staffer who initially made contact with Roberts in the hallway that night.

The body of Duane Charley was found down the hall on the floor of his room covered by a blanket, in the Forensic Services Unit where patients are sent who have been convicted of a crime of acquitted of one by reason of insanity.

Once nurses approached Charley's room, Roberts "pulled back the blanket and said, ‘Do you think you can handle this?'" the same staffer wrote, "There was blood around his head…pillow…and hands."

The CEO of Eastern State Hospital notified Charley's family of his death, and records reveal, "It was difficult to track what interventions, if any, happened when the patient was found.  The RN's assessment was ‘patient unresponsive.'"

As Roberts was taken to jail, investigators scoured the rooms for evidence, but they didn't find the murder weapon.  Records show cleaning staff found a green electrical cord with what appeared to be dried blood underneath a bed.

Charley had been a patient at ESH since 1995, and Roberts was admitted in 2004 after being acquitted of attempted murder in a separate choking case by reason of insanity.  It's not clear if the two knew each other, or why Roberts allegedly picked him.

In the wake of the ongoing investigation, the hospital's accreditation was pulled, but has since been restored as ESH worked to address ongoing safety concerns.

Roberts is due back in court later this week.

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