License to Stalk

Dr. Ronald Castro stood in a courtroom April 8 and pointed sharply at the woman to his right.

"If Lucia is allowed to go free, and if she should relapse," Castro told Superior Court Judge Michael McVey, "I fear that the first indication of her relapse may be a bullet into my body. ... If Lucia is out on the streets again, and if she injures, kills or somehow harms somebody in society, you will be held accountable for that."

He then returned to his seat to hear McVey sentence 40-year-old Lucia America Diaz. The Mesa woman earlier had pleaded no contest to two felonies:

• She'd stalked Castro and vandalized his office during the first nine months of 1997, after similar incidents that had started in 1994.

• She'd fired bullets into the doctor's Glendale office on the evening of September 30, 1997, after breaking his windows with a sledgehammer. A woman cleaning the office ducked to avoid the gunfire.

McVey had the option of sending Diaz to prison for 12 years, but that was unlikely because of circumstances unique to her case. Even prosecutor Dyanne Greer told the judge that prison probably wasn't the best answer.

"... She would be out in a very short period of time with no supervision," Greer said, "and back in the mental-health system, which so brutally failed her before and failed Dr. Castro. I know [I've] indicated that I felt that, given the persistence of her delusions and the danger to Dr. Castro, that additional incarceration was the only answer to protect him. I'm not so sure. I don't have an answer, Judge. I don't know that you do, either."

Diaz is one of hundreds of seriously mentally ill Maricopa County residents who have been judged legally "competent" to face criminal charges.

Defense lawyer Michele Lawson avowed that Diaz's mental state has improved while incarcerated for more than two years awaiting trial, citing the use of antipsychotic drugs and other medications.

"Now, her delusions are past ... because she has insight into the fact that they are delusions and that she needs to take the medication and she feels better."

McVey asked Diaz if she had anything to say.

"If I wasn't being stalked, I would have never broken ..." she started.

Lawson immediately touched Diaz's shoulder and whispered into her ear.

The judge slumped slightly, and put a hand to his face.

It sounded as if Diaz still believed that Castro -- who had delivered the two youngest of her four children -- had been stalking her, not the other way around.

Seriously mentally ill people often don't know how sick they are, so it made sense that she'd expressed confusion about the doctor. But would McVey risk putting someone on probation who still harbored delusions about a man she'd already victimized?

Diaz took a far different tack with the judge after conversing with her lawyer.

"I'm going to start taking my medication every day," she said softly, apparently forgetting she'd been doing just that for months.

Looking small and scared in her striped jail suit, Diaz continued: "And I wanted to say that ... if he wouldn't have hired someone to follow me, I would have never done what I did. And I know what I did. I wasn't on medication. I didn't take my medication. That's all."

McVey took a short break, then returned to impose sentence.

"I have concluded that, but for this serious mental illness, in all likelihood this crime would not have happened," he said.

"Obviously, the comments you made a few minutes ago are some sign that you are not completely stabilized and completely cured. But I think you were talking about delusions of what happened in the past and not a current belief system as to Dr. Castro. ..."

McVey placed Diaz on intensive probation for five years. His orders forbid her to bisect specific streets in the area of Castro's office on West Thunderbird Road.

The judge also ordered additional jail time that will keep Diaz locked up until at least August 4. Then, if space is available, jail officials likely will release her to a halfway house for a "transitional" period back into society.

Diaz's probation officer must approve any permanent living situation, and it's uncertain what that might be.

If she doesn't comply with McVey's orders, he told Diaz, "this court will act swiftly and do everything it can to protect human safety and human life."

McVey concluded, "Ms. Diaz, everybody in this courtroom is pulling for you. Everybody wants you to succeed. I hope you do."

The Lucia Diaz case provides a textbook example of what happens when the criminal-justice system must deal with someone whom the mental-health-care system has failed.

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