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DSA In the News

Mom pleads insanity for attacking family

Published on 7/17/2010

The Redwood City mother accused of drugging and attacking members of her family with a 10-pound dumbbell entered twin pleas on Friday of not guilty and not guilty by reason of insanity to multiple counts of attempted murder.

However, before Philomena Mary Brown, 39, can stand trial, three court-appointed doctors must first assess her mental state. Their reports are due back Sept. 1.

Unlike competency, which is a person’s ability to aid in their own defense, sanity is a person’s mental state at the time of an alleged crime. 

In Brown’s case, a jury will first be asked to decide if she is guilty. If so, the sanity phase will follow next. 

Brown’s defense attorney Vince O’Malley indicated his plans to mount an insanity defense at her last court appearance at which she waived her right to a preliminary hearing and headed straight to Superior Court. O’Malley has said his client suffered a mental breakdown in the weeks before the attack, believing people wanted to harm or even kill her family.

Brown is charged with three counts of premeditated attempted murder — alongside child abuse charges — which leaves her facing life in prison if convicted. The key is the premeditation allegation which prosecutors say is shown by her knowingly slipping drugs to her husband, 23-year-old daughter and 13-year-old son the night before the June 21 attack.

Police arrested Brown after receiving a call from her 13-year-old son just after 5:30 a.m. June 21. He reported Brown having attacked him and his 23-year-old sister at the family’s home at 1010 Vera Ave. Later details showed that Brown’s husband of 26 years, originally reported as having slept through the incident, was allegedly drugged the previous night by something she placed in their food.

The next morning, Brown allegedly went into her daughter’s bedroom and hit her in the head with a 10-pound dumbbell while she slept. Her son heard the altercation and encountered his mother in the hallway but was allegedly punched in the face with the same dumbbell.

Brown fled the house while her son reportedly ran to his father’s room and found him groggy. Both children were hospitalized and her daughter sustained a skull fracture.

Sheriff’s deputies found Brown later that afternoon in her car at Pomponio State Beach near Half Moon Bay. Authorities believe she tried to kill herself with prescription medication and she was hospitalized before being medically cleared and taken to the women’s jail.

On Friday, Brown’s husband asked a judge to modify a restraining order against her to a no-harassment order. Judge Lisa Novak declined.