A La Pine man who attacked his mother with a gavel in 2013 has been found guilty except for insanity of attempted murder.
The drawn-out case against Austin Miltenberger, 24, made a large step forward Friday during a short bench trial. Miltenberger will be evaluated to see if he should be committed to the state psychiatric hospital or if he can be placed in community-based housing with appropriate supervision.
Miltenberger was arrested and charged with attempted murder, second-degree assault and unlawful use of a weapon after striking his mother, Karen Morse, in the head multiple times on March 16, 2013.
However, Miltenberger, who was diagnosed with schizophrenia when he was 18, was found mentally unfit to aid in his defense and was committed to a psychiatric hospital for 22 months. During that time, doctors struggled to identify the correct medication for him, according to testimony given during the trial, but in July, he was released to the Deschutes County jail.
The trial lasted two hours as it was a stipulated facts trial, meaning the defense and prosecution agreed on what evidence would be brought before the judge.
Being a bench trial, there was no jury.
Deschutes County Deputy District Attorney Brandi Shroyer did not call any witnesses. Her case consisted of photos and a short audio recording of Miltenberger’s interview with a Deschutes County Sheriff’s Office deputy following the attack, in which Miltenberger admitted to the assault, said he intended to kill his mother, and if he were brought back home, would again strike her with the gavel.
In her ruling, Deschutes County Circuit Judge Beth Bagley said the evidence clearly proved Miltenberger intended to kill Morse, but he did not understand the criminality of his actions because of his mental illness.
Defense attorney Karla Nash presented evidence to that effect in the form of Jeffrey Gray, a forensic psychologist who did several evaluations of Miltenberger since the attack. Gray testified that Miltenberger struggles to understand nuance or complicated issues.
He said he has seen evidence of Miltenberger having auditory hallucinations, such as looking away from him during an interview and smiling or laughing, presumably at something that wasn’t there.
Miltenberger had a history of such behavior leading up to the attack. He was living with his sister in La Pine and exhibiting psychotic behavior, according to testimony. Miltenberger would pace the halls at night and have conversations while alone in his room. He talked about a gavel, and at one point called the police to report the gavel was missing, though at the time he didn’t have one.
He asked his sister for a gavel, and she purchased one online and gave it to him on March 15, 2016. The next day, he went to his mom’s house with the gavel, according to testimony.
Morse’s boyfriend answered the door and let Miltenberger in, thinking he wanted to show his mother the gavel. Miltenberger went straight into the kitchen and began attacking Morse, according to testimony.
Morse’s boyfriend reported hearing multiple whacking noises, before going into the kitchen where he saw Miltenberger hit Morse five to six more times. Morse’s boyfriend restrained Miltenberger and ended the attack. Morse sustained a wound on her forehead requiring stitches and a bruise on her forearm from trying to defend herself from the attack.
In the interview with a deputy later, Miltenberger said he did it because Morse often yelled and nagged at him. Gray testified Miltenberger told him that the nagging was generally over grades, even though Miltenberger, 21 at the time, was not in school. Gray said this is evidence of Miltenberger not being able to comprehend reality.
In the years since the attack on his mother, Miltenberger continued to display psychotic behavior. But according to testimony, he improved as doctors were better able to dial in medication. On Oct. 17, Miltenberger will be sentenced, and it will be determined where he will reside.
Nash said he will be under the authority of the Oregon Psychiatric Security Review Board for the next 20 years. The board will decide what sort of supervision is appropriate in order to help Miltenberger, while keeping the community safe.
After the trial, Nash said it was a tragic situation where mental illness greatly impacted a family. It was an example of how severe schizophrenia can be, she said.
At trial, Morse, her boyfriend and Miltenberger’s sister were all in attendance in support of their family member.
— Reporter: 541-383-0376, firstname.lastname@example.org