Heidi Butler

Heidi Butler, 38, of Sonora, was arrested Friday, Sept. 11, 2020, on suspicion of solicitation to commit murder.

A Tuolumne County Superior Court judge agreed to delay the preliminary hearing for a Sonora nurse accused of plotting to have her husband murdered last year after her lawyer filed a motion on Tuesday saying she has been diagnosed with mental health issues that “grossly impaired” her judgment.

The preliminary hearing, which is where a judge determines if the prosecution has sufficient evidence of probable cause to make a defendant stand trial, was pushed back from Friday to July 16. 

Tuolumne County Public Defender Scott Gross, who was appointed by the court to represent Butler, said in an email that he requested the additional time to “explore mental defenses based upon this new evidence.”

According to the motion, Butler underwent a psychological evaluation with Dr. Luigi Piciucco, a Sacramento-based mental health professional, who found that she suffers from a mood disturbance consistent with bipolar disorder and that her judgment “was grossly impaired while her mood shifted.”

Butler was recommended to gain insight into her emotional instability as part of her treatment, the motion stated, in addition to “cognitive strengthening of healthier attitudes and interpersonal relationships as opposed to self-defeating cycles which lead to intermittent withdrawal tendencies and persistent mistrust of others.”

The motion said Butler started her recovery by seeing Dr. David Bohannon, a psychiatrist at Adventist Health Sonora, where she worked as a nurse for nine years prior to her arrest on Sept. 11 following a tip from the FBI to the Tuolumne County Sheriff’s Office. 

Bohannon reports that Butler has responded well to treatment and has been handling herself “exceptionally well” despite the “complex social and economic stressors” she’s currently going through, the four-page court document said.

Butler, 39, has pleaded not guilty to one felony charge of solicitation of murder and has remained out of custody since being released from jail on Sept. 22 after Presiding Judge Kevin Seibert lowered her bail from $1 million to $100,000.

Her bail was lowered after Gross filed an earlier motion that pleaded for the amount to be reduced and argued she had suffered a mental breakdown brought on by a combination of marital issues and stress she was under as a frontline health care worker amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

A returned search warrant that’s publicly available to view in Tuolumne County Superior Court detailed more of the investigation by Sheriff’s detectives that led to her being arrested at her home on Woodduck Lane in Sonora. 

The 21-page warrant said the FBI tipped off the Sheriff’s Office after receiving information from one of Butler’s co-workers whom she had allegedly asked to help find someone she could hire to kill her husband in exchange for splitting the proceeds of a $500,000 life insurance policy she had on him.

Butler was arrested just hours after the co-worker provided audio evidence to Sheriff’s detectives who had asked the co-worker to record a conversation with Butler discussing the alleged plot.

In November, the California Board of Nursing through the State Attorney General’s Office sought to have Butler’s license as a registered nurse suspended while she is out on bail. The board’s website shows the court officially granted the suspension on Feb. 19.

Contact Alex MacLean at amaclean@uniondemocrat.net or (209) 768-5175.

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