Insanity Defense For Alleged Baby Killer?

T.E. McMorrow
Tad Scharfenberg, District Attorney Tim Sini’s trial division chief, with lead prosecuting attorney Kerriann Kelly, following the arraignment of the Medford woman charged with murdering her own toddlers.

Independent/T.E. McMorrow

The 24-year-old Medford woman accused of murdering her twin toddlers during a drive to Montauk on June 27 will remain behind bars for the foreseeable future, after New York State Justice Richard Ambro ordered her to continue to be remanded. Tenia Campbell has been in county jail in Riverside since her initial arraignment in East Hampton Town Justice Court on June 28.

Her attorney, John Halverson, told Ambro during the arraignment in Riverside on Wednesday, July 10, that, in preparation for a possible plea of guilty but not responsible due to insanity or mental defect at the time of the crime, the defense will be bringing in a psychiatrist to examine the defendant. Prosecuting attorney Kerriann Kelly said at a press conference after the arraignment that the prosecution will be bringing in its own expert to examine Campbell, as well.

If Halverson and Campbell choose the insanity plea, it would shift the burden of proof from the prosecution, which has to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, to the defense, which has to prove insanity by a preponderance of evidence.

Kelly said at the press conference that Campbell could be sentenced to life in prison without parole if convicted of either of the two top charges she is facing, murder one. She is also facing two charges of murder in the second degree, which carries a penalty of 25 years to life.

Halverson said that it is too soon to determine whether or not Campbell is mentally competent to stand trial.

Kelly said that it still has not been determined exactly how the twin two-year-olds, Jasmine and Jaida Campbell, were murdered. “The medical examiner has determined that the two were killed with homicidal violence, consistent with manual asphyxia,” Kelly said, “The defendant herself indicated that she did it with her own hands.” That may have been done by placing her hands over the babies’ noses and mouths, Kelly said, but a final determination has not been made.

Independent/T.E. McMorrow

Kelly said that the Medical Examiner’s office has yet to determine the time of death of the two, which could be crucial in concluding when and where they actually died. Campbell had driven from Medford, calling her mother multiple times, repeatedly saying, when her mother asked about the toddlers, “It is too late.”

“I killed them,” Kelly said Campbell told the first officers to arrive at Third House County Park in Montauk, where she was found and taken into custody after a two-hour search by police across the East End on June 27. “I killed them with my hands. I can’t kill myself, so someone is going to find me, and I’m going to jail,” Kelly said Campbell told police.

Ambro ordered Campbell to be kept on a suicide watch, which she has been on since she was first taken into custody.

Campbell was expressionless as she was led into the courtroom. Court officers had taken the unusual precaution of handcuffing her wrists behind her back. When she was in custody in East Hampton, she was reportedly both combative and suicidal.


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