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Lawyer wants client’s mental health history sealed, hearing closed

November 20, 2018

The lawyer for a young woman accused of the strangling death of her 5-year-old stepson wants a Santa Fe judge to close a hearing at which a psychiatrist is expected to discuss her mental health history, including “physical abuse and mental conditions which should not be disclosed to the public.”

The attorney has also asked the judge to seal records related to the hearing, saying they contain information protected by the federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act.

The proceedings and documents in a hearing about whether a defendant should be released from custody before trial normally are open to the public.

State District Judge T. Glenn Ellington on Monday postponed a hearing on the request for two weeks, saying the parties need to allow time for news media or other interested parties to file motions opposing the proposed sealing as a matter of “public interest” before he will rule.

Police arrested Melynie April Tylan Curtis in September after she called 911 to report that her five-year-old stepson was unresponsive after falling asleep in the bathtub.

Doctors who treated the boy — who was airlifted to University of New Mexico Hospital before being declared brain-dead and taken off life support by his parents a day later— told police the child’s condition was not consistent with Curtis’ story.

His clothes and hair were dry, according to police reports, he had no water in his lungs and had marks around his neck that indicated he had been strangled.

Police reports say Curtis later admitted choking the boy, who she said had been giving her trouble, but said she hadn’t meant to choke him “that hard.”

Curtis’ attorney Todd Farkas, who has said Curtis was home alone with four children under the age of five when the incident occurred, has been seeking his client’s release pending trial. He approached the court with a plan that calls for releasing her to her grandparents on the Navajo reservation near Bloomfield and for her to receive treatment from a nearby mental health center.

State prosecutors argued last month that Curtis should be kept in jail without bond because she faces a life sentence in the case, could be a danger to her remaining children — including a newborn— and might flee to the Navajo Nation and be hard to track.

State District Judge Mary Marlowe Sommer rejected those arguments at an earlier hearing, saying Curtis’ children are in state custody and the state routinely works with tribal officials. However, Marlowe Sommer ordered Curtis be kept in jail on the grounds that the young woman had threatened to slice her own pregnant belly with a razor during a domestic dispute in April and her mental state was such she could be a danger to herself.

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