A Sonora woman and former nurse accused of soliciting a hitman to murder her husband has appealed for mental health treatment in lieu of criminal prosecution, claiming the stresses of family and the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated her bipolar and anxiety disorders.
The motion for the application of mental health diversion was filed by defendant Heidi Butler's court-appointed attorney, Tuolumne County Public Defender Scott Gross, on June 25. It was underpinned by a 37-page psychological assessment of her from the defense-hired Dr. Luigi Piciucco, a Sacramento-based mental health professional, as well as a one-page statement from her current treatment psychiatrist at Adventist Health Sonora, Dr. David Bohannon
"The court should find, based on Dr. Piciucco's report, that she meets all the requirements, her mental health diagnosis was a significant cause of the crime, and there is no danger of her committing a ‘super strike’ if treated in the community," Gross said in the motion.
That "super strike" is the one felony charge Butler, 39, has been charged with: solicitation of murder.
Butler has pleaded not guilty and has remained out of custody since being released from jail on Sept. 22, after Presiding Tuolumne County Superior Court Judge Kevin Seibert lowered her bail from $1 million to $100,000.
Tuolumne County District Attorney Cassandra Jenecke, who is prosecuting the case, said "the next step is to retain our own mental health expert to evaluate the quality of the assessment by Dr. Piciucco."
At this time, the District Attorney's Office remains opposed to mental health diversion, Jenecke said, characterizing someone who is accused of a "super strike" as committing a violent and serious act that endangers public safety.
Jenecke said the expert would review details in Butler's case file — California law prohibits the prosecution's expert from evaluating her in person — and would submit a recommendation based on their evaluation of her mental state.
A preliminary hearing scheduled to take place Friday was vacated on Tuesday after the District Attorney's Office filed for a continuance. The new date for the hearing, as well as the motion to request diversion, is Oct. 8.
Jenecke said the date was set far enough ahead so that her office could have appropriate time to hire an expert and have the expert complete their evaluation.
The defense motion for mental health diversion includes three statements: two from medical professionals and one from her husband and the alleged victim in the case, Jeremie Butler, who appealed for her to receive treatment as opposed to incarceration.
Piciucco concluded Heidi Butler had bipolar disorder with unspecified depressive episodes, anxiety disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder and a paranoid/negativistic personality. He said she should receive intensive psychotherapy to process childhood and marital abuse and claimed she never committed a violent act in the solicitation accusation.
Heidi Butler said in a statement during an examination on Oct. 28, which was included with the public court documents, that overwork during the COVID-19 pandemic and a volatile, distrustful relationship with her husband prompted her to irritability, anger and resentment.
"I snapped," she said. "I was enraged and I said the words I wish him dead."
Heidi Butler worked at Adventist Health Sonora for nine years as a nurse before she was arrested on Sept. 11 following a tip from the FBI to the Tuolumne County Sheriff’s Office.
In the Oct. 28 statement, Heidi Butler said she was coming off three COVID-related assignments over three months in April, May and June, as a night shift nurse, working on two hours sleep and powered by energy drinks. She described herself as the sole provider in the family, fatigued from three of her four children involved in distance learning at home, and the victim of bias at work from a jealous boss.
"I worked every single night,” she said. “Sometimes I would have one night off a week, but I was working extreme hours.”
It was in the weeks before the alleged sollicitation that Heidi Butler found out her husband's partner in real estate wrote a letter to him saying she had feelings for him, the documents said.
"He stated that he wished he married someone like her instead of me," Heidi Butler said in the documents. "I was very moody and I'm finding myself to still be moody now."
Heidi Butler said in her statement that she brought up a range of murder ideas to her coworkers: hiring a Hells Angel for a hit, smashing a rock through his windshield while he was driving or poisoning his Diet Coke with coronavirus.
"I am so guilty in the shame that I even said anything like that. But nevertheless, I said it," she said in the statement.
Heidi Butler further said in the statement that she didn't plan to go through with the idea after her husband told her he "wanted a fresh start," and that she planned to tell her coworker that, but she was arrested.
A 21-page search warrant for Heidi Butler’s home on Woodduck Lane said the FBI tipped off the Sheriff’s Office after receiving information from one of her 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.
Heidi Butler was arrested at her home just hours after the co-worker provided the recorded phone conversation to detectives, according to the warrant.
Bohannon, a doctor of osteopathic medicine at Adventist Health Sonora, said in a letter that Heidi Butler had been his patient since Jan. 13 for mental health treatment.
"She continues to be seen on a monthly basis and is also involved in individual therapy on a weekly basis," he wrote. "Given her complex social and economic stressors, the patient is going through at this time, she has been handling herself exceptionally well."
Jeremie Butler wrote in a letter to court dated April 16 that he did not wish for his wife to be criminally prosecuted.
"She was under terrible stress from the events that have transpired over the last year,” he said in the public document. “She had, in my opinion, a mental health breakdown and I feel she would benefit more from mental health treatment than incarceration."
Laura Garner, Jeremie Butler's mother, presented herself instead as an advocate for the prosecution in a declaration letter dated to April 27, characterizing Heidi Butler as mentally unstable and harboring violent tendencies.
"My son Jeremie would be dead now, if Heidi had succeeded in contracting/conversing with a killer instead of an FBI informant," Garner said in the public document. "This is the action of a distraught spouse not only premeditating having her husband murdered but contracting and carrying through with it."
Garner also undercutted Heidi Butler's claim to stress, describing her work as "an all expense paid vacation for the family" and "having a good time" in photos.
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 Giuseppe Ricapito at firstname.lastname@example.org or (209) 588-4526.