Health Law

Mom's Murder Leads to New Maine Laws

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Over the years, William Bruce had reportedly attempted suicide, attacked both of his siblings, resulting in broken limbs, and threatened friends with an AK-47 automatic rifle, among other incidents. So no one who knew him well was amazed when the then 25-year-old paranoid schizophrenic, apparently in the throes of a psychotic delusion, allegedly murdered his mother last summer with an ax.

What did seem unbelievable to them, though, was that Bruce had been released from the inpatient Maine psychiatric treatment that his parents had sought for him, with little, if any, input from his family about his need for treatment and the danger that he posed to them and to others, according to New York Lawyer (reg. req.), which reprinted a New York Law Journal article on the case. Two months later his mother, 47-year-old Amy Bruce, was dead.

Earlier that year, before his release, “The patient advocates acted as if William’s treatment meetings with his doctor were adversary depositions, and told him how to answer questions and interposed directions not to answer,” says Robert D. Owen, a lawyer at Fulbright & Jaworski who heads the Houston-based firm’s litigation practice in New York City. “Their heedless efforts led very directly to William’s release. A short time later, Amy Bruce was dead—something Joe Bruce feared would happen if his son was released.”

Hospital officials said they couldn’t discuss William Bruce’s condition with his family, under confidentiality laws that applied in Maine, and a number of other states. However, that has now changed: with the help of lawyers from Fulbright & Jaworski who represented William Bruce’s surviving father (and Amy Bruce’s husband) on a pro bono basis, Maine enacted three new laws last month to address such situations.

They include, the article reports, LD 1119, which allows disclosure about a mental patient to a caregiver and requires disclosure if the patient poses a danger to the caregiver, and two other statutes that clarify standards for involuntarily committing a patient for psychiatric treatment.

William Bruce, who has been found by a Maine judge to be “not criminally responsible” for murdering his mother because of his mental illness, is now being held indefinitely at the psychiatric hospital that released him last year.

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