MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) — A Tennessee woman charged with stabbing her four children to death will undergo a mental health evaluation to determine if she can face the upcoming legal proceedings against her, while her lawyer thinks she suffers from a mental disability.
General Sessions Judge L. Lambert Ryan on Monday agreed to order the mental evaluation for Shanynthia Gardner, 29. She is accused of cutting the throats of her three daughters and one son, all younger than 5, on July 1. Her 7-year-old son escaped the attack in a suburban Memphis apartment.
Gardner was not present during a brief court hearing. She is being treated at the Memphis Mental Health Institute, where she was taken after a court hearing last Tuesday in which she did not answer questions from the judge.
Gardner is being held without bond. A hearing has been scheduled for July 26 to check the progress of the evaluation, but the examination could take 30 days or more.
Her lawyer, Craig Morton, said the case could be prolonged by the evaluation. He said Gardner is not a violent person.
“She suffers from what I consider a mental disability and was not aware of the consequences of her actions,” Morton said.
The Memphis Mental Health Institute is a state psychiatric hospital where most patients have “a severe and persistent mental illness and are hospitalized on an emergency, involuntary basis,” according to a state website. The evaluation will determine whether Gardner can face the legal process and what her mental state was at the time of the stabbings, said Eric Christensen, chief prosecutor with the Shelby County district attorney’s special victims unit.
If mental health experts find that she did not know the consequences of her actions or understand that killing her children was wrong, then that would be grounds for an insanity defense, Morton said.
Sheriff’s officials say Gardner cut her children’s throats at her apartment in a gated community in unincorporated Shelby County. She acknowledged killing them in a phone conversation to their father, Martin Gardner, court documents say. A large butcher knife with what appeared to be blood on it was found in the apartment, the documents show.
When deputies arrived at the apartment, they found Gardner with superficial cuts to her neck and wrists, court documents said.
The victims were identified as 4-year-old Tallen Gardner; 3-year-old Sya Gardner; 2 year-old Sahvi Gardner; and 6-month old Yahzi Gardner. A fifth child, 7-year-old Dallen Clayton, escaped the attack, the documents said. He is Gardner’s son from a previous marriage.
Dallen was able to flee the apartment and tell someone that his mother was stabbing his sister. Shanynthia Gardner was taken into custody soon after.
“It’s a horrible set of circumstances,” Morton said. “I know the family is grieving. I know that she’s grieving.”