Sunday, December 2, 2007

Orlando-area judge frees mentally ill woman who killed her parents in '88

She has been in state mental hospitals most of the time since their deaths in '88.

Rene Stutzman

Sentinel Staff Writer

December 2, 2007


When Stephanie Gardner stops taking her medication, things go very wrong. For months in 1988, she heard voices in her head, telling her to kill her parents. One night, she stood up from a card game, walked into another room and shot her father and mother with a .38-caliber handgun.

Since then, she's spent most of her days locked in state mental hospitals.

Soon that will end. A judge ruled Friday that Gardner is well enough to be set free. Circuit Judge O.H. Eaton Jr. ordered her released from the state hospital in Chattahoochee and into a privately run home for the mentally ill in Miami.

There she'll be supervised, but she won't be locked up. That, said Assistant State Attorney Chris White, makes her a risk.

Gardner has been diagnosed with bipolar schizoaffective disorder.

She doesn't believe she's mentally ill, however, according to three medical experts who testified Friday in Seminole Circuit Court. If Gardner stays on her medication, she should be fine, said psychiatrist Jeffrey Danziger. If, however, she walks away from the Miami facility, she's almost certain to stop taking her medicine, he said.

Gardner doesn't like taking her medication and can't be trusted to take it, White said.

"This woman killed two people," he said.

He pleaded with the judge to leave her locked in the state hospital.

Gardner was a 30-year-old mother of two in June 1988 when she got up from her card game and killed Daniel Dinda, 66, and Carolyn Dinda, 60, at the couple's home near Oviedo. During her trial, witnesses testified to her strange beliefs, such as radio transmitters in her teeth were tracking her and that microwaves from satellites were displacing the souls of her children.

A jury found her not guilty by reason of insanity. Eaton later ordered her hospitalized indefinitely.

Gardner has been released before, always under supervision, but things did not go well.

About a year after she was released to a group home in Jacksonville in 2000, she went off her medicine, became unmanageable, stopped going to treatment sessions and bought a car.

When a different judge found out, he ordered her to jail for several weeks then into a more restrictive group home.

Four years later, in late 2005, she went off her medication again and disappeared for weeks. She traveled from Jacksonville to Tampa then flew to Washington, where she was taken into custody. No one had reported her missing.

Since then, she's been locked up.

For months, medical experts at the hospital in Chattahoochee and her lawyer have argued that she's stable enough to release.

Dr. Bruce Chlopan, a psychologist, testified Friday that in the year or so he's treated her, she has had no delusions or hallucinations.

Defense attorney Tim Caudill argued that the law does not allow the state to keep a mental patient locked up just because she might stop taking her medicine and become unstable.

The judge agreed.

Rene Stutzman can be reached at or 407-324-7294.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Stephanie Gardner is in a 24 hour supervised facility that monitors her medications and offers treatment for her mental illness. She does acknowledge that she has a mental illness. The program offers her full support, and provides her with counseling to gain insight to her mental illness as well as the understanding about certain stressors that would cause her to decompensate.