Archive for Sunday, June 20, 2004

Husband blames mental illness for slayings

June 20, 2004

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— When her daughters' toys came tumbling out of the closet, Charlene Dorcy didn't rush to pick them up.

She told her husband not to worry: "They're going to be thrown away anyway," Robert Dorcy recalled, in what has become for him one of many omens of what was to come.

On the morning of June 12, Charlene Dorcy loaded 2-year-old Brittney and 4-year-old Jessica into her white Toyota and drove them more than 80 miles to an abandoned rock quarry. She made them sit on the ground and then shot them with her husband's .22-caliber rifle.

That same evening, she drove back to Vancouver, called 911 from a pay phone and turned herself in. She led detectives back to the quarry where they found the children's bodies.

In an interview with The Associated Press, Robert Dorcy described the last days of his family's life together, a life of loving warmth marred and eventually destroyed by mental illness.

"What I want the public to know is that my wife was a devoted mother," Robert Dorcy said as he sat in a room crowded with his dead children's toys. "But mental illness makes people do things -- things that are completely out of character."

Charlene Dorcy awaits arraignment next month on two counts of aggravated first-degree murder, a charge that could carry the death penalty.

Similar killings by mentally ill mothers happen as many as 100 times a year, said forensic psychiatrist Dr. Park Dietz, a consultant to the prosecution in several high-profile cases, including that of Andrea Yates, the Houston mother who drowned her five children in a bathtub.

The Dorcys met 10 years ago when Robert answered a personal ad describing "a Christian who likes hiking and hugs." On their first date -- a hike in the same wilderness where their children would die -- Charlene told him she had a secret.

Beginning at age 13 she began a repeated pattern of failed suicide attempts.

In 1997, she was interviewed anonymously by The Columbian newspaper in Vancouver for a feature on the stigma of mental illness. The story called Charlene a "success story" because she had managed to keep her schizophrenia in check through medication.

But soon after the article was published, Dorcy -- with her husband's encouragement -- stopped taking Tegretol, an anti-psychotic drug.

"The side effects included liver damage and losing your eyesight," Robert said. "I said: This isn't good."

Instead, she switched to St. John's Wort, an herb commonly used to treat depression. Studies suggest it can exacerbate psychosis in schizophrenics.

"She had threatened to kill herself at least six times in the last year," he said. "But then there was always a calm."

On the night of June 11, Robert read Winnie the Pooh to his two children.

Usually, the couple ended the evening by going to bed together. But that night, Charlene closed the bedroom door and her husband slept in a separate room, Robert said.

At work the next afternoon, Robert said he felt a strange chill. Later, when detectives said that his wife was at the police station but his children were not with her, he knew right away.

"She was always with them," he said.

Sitting next to two tiny blue chairs in his daughters' toy kitchen, Robert Dorcy said he still loved his wife.

"I forgive her," he said. "I know that many people won't be able to understand that."

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