License to Stalk

A judge said Lucia Diaz should be force-medicated to control her psychosis. Instead, she was turned loose to terrorize.

A Sun City man for whom Diaz once worked told police that Diaz had a boyfriend who lived nearby. The man also said Diaz was a ComCare patient, which seemed to be news to investigators.

Diaz's boyfriend claimed he hadn't seen her.

ComCare didn't know where she was, either. The agency provided a Scottsdale address that turned out not to exist.

Days passed before the Sun City man informed police that Diaz was visiting his home. They arrested her there, then tried to piece together what had led to the shooting spree.

Among other things, investigators learned that Diaz's boyfriend had bought her a gun about a month earlier.

Diaz told Glendale detective Brad Moore that she'd broken windows at Castro's office three or four times, explaining she'd done so to protect herself. The doctor had created a robot of himself, she said, and had devised novel ways of talking to her -- through computers, radios and the like.

It immediately became clear to doctors and others at the county jail that Diaz was very ill. Arizona law allows judges to find mentally troubled defendants "incompetent, but restorable." The thinking is that treatment may allow people to improve mentally to the point where they are "competent" to stand trial.

Being "competent," by the way, does not mean one is legally sane: Competency refers to how someone is doing at the time. Sanity refers to a person's state of mind at the time of the offense, and considers criminal culpability.

One psychiatrist wrote of Diaz several months after her arrest, "She believes that, at night, her body is substituted by a mannequin who looks exactly like her. During that time, she spends time with "my rich husband, Dr. Castro,' whom she stated, "won't let me work and won't let me do anything.'"

Diaz spent three months at the Arizona State Hospital in the spring of 1998. She was treated there under a new court-ordered treatment plan, and was said to be "improving" slowly. In June 1998, hospital officials released her to the county jail. Soon after that, a court commissioner determined that Diaz had become competent to stand trial.

She faced felonies that could have landed her in prison for years if convicted. But the end of her convoluted case still was almost a year away.

L ucia Diaz spent months at the psychiatric ward of the jail facility on West Durango. Despite the spotty record of Maricopa County's jail system, the Durango unit has a fine reputation for its treatment of patients.

Even Diaz's attorney praises the job that counselor Lorraine Cali and psychologist Sarah Hill did with Diaz.

"Lucia had zero insight about herself and her problems when she first went over there," says Michele Lawson. "They worked closely with her, and also found an effective drug regimen that made her better and didn't turn her into a zombie. She's not the same person that I met a few years ago, and that's a positive."

Plea negotiations began in earnest early this year. An obstacle was County Attorney Rick Romley's policy that anyone convicted of using a gun during a crime should go to prison. But Romley does allow for deviations, and Lawson convinced prosecutors that this was an apt case for such an exception.

Ronald Castro, however, was outraged that Diaz might be set free. He wanted her sent to prison for life.

The janitor who avoided being hit by Diaz's gunfire in September 1997 took a more lenient view. Though she said she suffered "panic attacks" for months after the incident, the woman concluded that Diaz needs extensive mental help more than she needs prison.

By February 1999, the attorneys had fashioned a deal that allowed for Diaz to be placed on intensive probation, if the judge went along with it.

The Adult Probation Office has a small but well-respected team that works solely with seriously mentally ill probationers. A few days before Diaz's sentencing, probation officer Geri Gervais told Judge McVey by speaker phone about the meticulous monitoring of probationers that she and the team undertake.

Diaz sat on a couch between her attorney and Dr. Potts in the judge's chambers. McVey asked Potts if he considered Diaz a current danger to Dr. Castro and the community.

"No, I do not," Potts replied, quickly adding that his opinion was predicated on "appropriate community services" being available to Diaz.

Those services, Potts continued, should include "case management by [ComCare successor agency] ValueOptions on a fairly constant, frequent level" and other monitoring. He said authorities could initiate another court-ordered treatment plan if Diaz fails to take her medication after her release.

Gervais agreed that probation officers may not know for sure if someone is taking their meds or is dumping them down the sink.

"But you're going to see the behavior," she said. "It's really hard for them to hide that stuff, especially if they're SMI [seriously mentally ill]. Our job is to see the tip of the iceberg before it mushrooms."

The opposing attorneys at Lucia Diaz's sentencing passionately addressed the dilemma before them.

Deputy county attorney Dyanne Greer spoke words of warning.

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