Minn. appeals court: Woman committed after killing boy in crash must still take medication

A woman sent to a maximum-security psychiatric hospital after killing a young boy in a car crash in 2011 fought against her commitment, and on Tuesday, the Minnesota appeals court ruled the state must continue to give her medication she refuses to take.

Leah Graeber was found unfit to stand trial and committed to the Minnesota Security Hospital in St. Peter in  2011 after she drove her car faster than 100 miles per hour, crossed a grassy median, and struck an oncoming car, killing 11-year-old Joey Balistreri and seriously injuring three of his family members in Burnsville.

“Graeber has often refused to take prescribed medications. Her refusals have prompted the district court several times to issue so-called Jarvis orders, which have generally authorized hospital staff to administer neuroleptic Clozaril (commonly called Clozapine),” the court’s ruling said.

Last March, her psychiatrist filed a petition seeking renewed authorization to treat Graeber with several neuroleptic medications, including Clozaril. A district court-appointed doctor testified he supported the use of the drug because Graeber had failed to improve with other medication, despite her objecting to take it, citing anxiousness, mood swings, crying fits and anxiety. Her mother and sister also said she improved when she was off medications.

“The district court issued an amended Jarvis order, finding that Clozaril had been inadvertently omitted from Dr. Gratzer’s prior recommendation. The court rejected as incredible the testimony that Graeber’s mother and sister had offered, and it found that Graeber had continued to be ‘actively psychotic,’ consistent with her past behavior. It therefore authorized up to 900 milligrams of Clozaril daily,” the ruling said.

The appeals court affirmed a district court’s order authorizing use of neuroleptic medication after Graeber was found to lack capacity to make decisions regarding neuroleptic medication and didn’t appeal within the statutory period.

“This finding in turn supports the conclusion that Clozaril does not apparently conflict with Graeber’s values. The district court received medical 5 testimony that favorably balanced Clozaril’s potential benefits against its potential side effects and that patients are closely monitored to identify and respond to any side effects,” the court’s decision said.