Brooklyn stabbing suspect's sister: "The system failed him"

NEW YORK (CBS NEWS) - Daniel St. Hubert's older sister was not in the courtroom when he was indicted Wednesday for allegedly stabbing two children in a Brooklyn elevator, but when she spoke with CBS News' Crimesider after her brother was returned to Bellevue Hospital, her voice was low.

"It's really sad," said Judith Perry.

St. Hubert, 27, had been out of prison just nine days when police say he attacked 6-year-old Prince Joshua "P.J." Avitto and 7-year-old Mikayla Capers in an elevator at the Boulevard Houses in the East New York neighborhood of Brooklyn on June 1. Avitto died of his injuries; Capers survived the attack and was released from the hospital Wednesday.

In court on Wednesday, St. Hubert asked if he could "have a short moment" to address the court, but the judge said no and he was escorted out of the courtroom.

Perry told Crimesider that she and her family are reeling from the allegations against her brother, who has been charged with murder, attempted murder, assault and weapons possession. She said her family has struggled for years to get quality care for his mental illness.

Prince Joshua Avitto (left), 6, was fatally stabbed, and 7-year-old Mikayla Capers was critically injured, in an attack in an apartment building elevator in Brooklyn, N.Y., Sunday June 1, 2014.

"If my brother did this, I really apologize. But I can honestly say I did everything I could for him," she said. "The system failed him."

According to Perry, she and her brother were raised in Brooklyn by their single mom. Perry said that her brother began acting out in his late teens, but that she and her mother chalked it up to teenage rebellion and they got him into anger management classes. Now a registered nurse, Perry says she looks back and wishes she'd had the knowledge about mental illness to be able to see the symptoms of schizophrenia.

In 2009, St. Hubert attacked their mother, reportedly strangling her with an electrical cord.

"He loves my mother, but he was hearing voices," said Perry. "He told me, 'I heard the devil tell me to do it to mom.'"

St. Hubert's mother survived and Perry says she refused to press charges because she believed her son was sick and needed to be in a hospital, not prison.

But prosecutors went ahead with the case, which had to be postponed several times because St. Hubert was repeatedly deemed mentally unfit for trial. Originally, she said, he was diagnosed with "drug-induced paranoia," but later that diagnosis was changed to schizophrenia.

Perry says that her brother was back and forth for two years between Rikers Island - which has recently come under fire after the deaths of two mentally ill inmates - and Kirby Psychiatric Center in New York City.

At Rikers, Perry says, her brother was attacked, and still bears the keloid over a long scar down his back. After being sentenced to 5 years for the attack on his mother, St. Hubert was transferred upstate, where he served time in several facilities and racked up a disciplinary record that included an assault on a staff member and creating a disturbance. Perry said that when she visited him, he was "spaced out,' and had trouble following a conversation.

"They didn't take the time to try and find the equilibrium with the medication," said Perry. "They think that drugging them is the best option."

In the weeks leading up to her brother's May release, Perry says that she and her mother rented an apartment for him near where they live in Queens. However, said Perry, corrections officials informed her that he couldn't live close to his mother due to an order of protection stemming from the 2009 attack.

"They told me they were going to put him in a homeless shelter," said Perry. "Why would they want to put him in a place where he has to get out at a certain time and roam the streets? It makes no sense."

Perry says that her brother was sent to a kind of "three-quarters" house in Brooklyn (which he told her was filthy), and that although she begged parole officials and the social worker assigned to his case to get her brother into treatment, he was not on medication and was without a doctor at the time he allegedly stabbed the two children.

"The social worker told me it would be three-to-four weeks before he could see a doctor," said Perry. "I was astonished. I said, 'This is ridiculous.' I was told: 'It's out of my hands.'"

New York State's Office of Mental Health (OMH), which is in charge of psychiatric care for inmates - as well as those confined to the state's various psychiatric institutions - has declined to comment on what sort of plan - if any - was set for St. Hubert upon his May 23 release.

"The quality of discharge planning really varies across the state," Jennifer Parish, the Director of Criminal Justice Advocacy at the Urban Justice Center's Mental Health Project, told Crimesider.

Parish was quick to point out that most people with severe mental illness never commit a violent act, and are actually more likely to be victims of violence than perpetrators. She admitted, however, that while she says it may not be fair to draw sweeping conclusions about the state of New York's post-prison psychiatric planning from one case, "it is hard to make sure people get linked to services."

Indeed. A 2008 report prepared for then-New York governor David Paterson and then-New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg, cited "poor coordination, fragmented oversight and lack of accountability in the mental health system," as well as "limited capacity to share information within and between the mental health and criminal and juvenile justice systems."

Citing privacy concerns, OMH has declined to comment on any specifics regarding St. Hubert's post-release mental health arrangements, including Perry's claims that she was told her brother wouldn't see a doctor for weeks after being discharged. The agency did not immediately answer questions from Crimesider about whether changes recommended in the 2008 report had been instituted.

In 1999, New York State enacted "Kendra's Law," which provides a system where people with severe mental illness can be court-ordered to undergo community based treatment. If a person is deemed eligible by a judge, the court can order community mental health officials to create a treatment plan and arrange for services.

Perry said that if she had been aware of Kendra's Law she would have tried to get such an order for her brother, but the Urban Justice Center's Parish said it would be very difficult for a family - as opposed to the state - to complete the complex process. OMH declined to comment on whether they considered asking a judge for a Kendra's Law order for St. Hubert.

Perry told Crimesider that when she went to visit her brother in jail after his June 4 arrest he told her he did not stab P.J. Avitto and Mikayla Capers. She said she saw him in the days after the stabbing and he did not appear violent.

If he is convicted, she says, she will fight to get him into a hospital.

"A person can become productive if given the right treatment and the right medication," she said. "I hope he goes into a good facility. I don't feel like he can be remanded [to prison] for the rest of his life."

She continues: "I was an advocate for him before, and I will continue to be an advocate for him."


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