The controversial release of Michael Lindsay from Walker Baptist Medical Center’s psychiatric ward and his subsequent mental condition were the focus during the second day of the murder trial in Cullman County.
The prosecution, led by Cullman County District Attorney Wilson Blaylock, aims to convict Michael Lindsay of the March 15, 2012, murder of his 31-year-old wife, Tammy Lindsay.
The second day of the trial follows an emotional day one, which featured testimony from the Lindsays' two daughters who were at the home the night of their mother's death. The couple's neighbor, Ronnie Lancaster, also testified to being awakened by Tammy Lindsay's cries outside, watching her die on his bathroom floor covered in blood while he was on the phone to 911 and seeing Michael Lindsay stab himself before authorities arrived on the scene.
The defendant was admitted to Walker Baptist’s mental health facilities on March 14 after his wife sought a probate court-mandated petition to commit him. That petition was followed by a court order that required Michael Lindsay be held at Walker Baptist for further evaluation.
However, witnesses from the medical center said they do not recall receiving any such document, and the defendant was released at 6:35 p.m. on March 14 against medical advice (AMA).
“I never saw the probate order, or he never would have been discharged AMA,” Syed Aftab, the presiding doctor over Walker Baptist’s mental health unit, said. “We believed the probate order was dropped.”
According to the testimony of James “Chip” Willingham, a registered nurse who worked with the defendant during his brief stay at Walker Baptist, Tammy Lindsay visited the hospital around 6 p.m. and subsequently left with Michael Lindsay.
“Michael told her he wanted to go home,” he said. “I asked Tammy Lindsay privately if she was willing to take him home AMA instead of being held for 24 hours. I did not know there was a court hold order at the time.”
Willingham and Aftab both said that Tammy Lindsay agreed to take the defendant home and felt safe doing so.
According to Willingham, the Lindsays agreed to self-admit Michael Lindsay to a facility in Decatur for further treatment.
The treatment Michael Lindsay received during his short stay at Walker Baptist included medication for alcohol withdrawal and anxiety, as well as some mental examination.
“We were monitoring Michael for alcohol detox, as he had recently stopped drinking heavily,” Willingham said.
According to Willingham’s testimony, Michael Lindsay was administered 25 milligrams of Librium, a drug used to treat anxiety and acute alcohol withdrawal.
During a cross-examination of Willingham, defense attorney Russell Crumbley brought into question the Librium’s purpose. Though Willingham only testified that the Librium was prescribed for alcohol withdrawals, the medical chart from Walker Baptist read otherwise.
“The medical chart says it is for anxiety, not alcohol withdrawals,” Crumbley said.
Willingham contested that the medication was often prescribed for both, and that, in Michael Lindsay’s case, it had been issued for alcohol withdrawals, which can cause psychosis in individuals who quit abruptly.
As far as the examination of Michael Lindsay, the findings by the Walker Baptist staff were disturbing, but ultimately not enough to keep him from being released.
“There was no question that he needed to stay for treatment,” Aftab said. “It would have benefited him to stay, but I could not hold him against his will.”
According to Aftab, the defendant never revealed signs indicative to him of dangerous behavior.
“We have to fear lawsuits for illegal detention,” he said. “If there is no suspicion that he is a danger to himself or others we cannot hold him. The reason I wanted him to stay was to treat paranoia. We never thought he was a threat. He was never observed as such.”
Perhaps the most unsettling demonstration of that paranoia was an admission Michael Lindsay made to Aftab during examination.
“He told the emergency room that he canceled a gallbladder surgery because he feared they would take all of his organs out.”
In response to a question from the defense posing if Aftab would ever not hold a patient out of fear of lawsuit, the doctor responded with a resounding no.
“If I have a reason to hold a patient, I will hold them,” he said. “We’ll deal with (a lawsuit) later.”
Willingham described Michael Lindsay’s demeanor during his stay at Walker Baptist as “not unruly” and “very cooperative.”
Further inquiry into the mental state of the defendant was done by Doug McKeown, a psychological consultant for the Alabama Department of Public Safety and a clinical and forensic psychologist.
McKeown examined Michael Lindsay six months after the alleged murder in order to determine his competency to stand trial.
“My opinion was that Mr. Lindsay was quite capable of participating in the judicial process,” he said. “In my opinion, he was aware of the unlawfulness of his acts. He was not insane at that time.”
According to McKeown’s examination, Michael Lindsay denied being delusional or paranoid. During a cross-examination, the defense questioned that statement.
“Him denying delusions and paranoia does not mean he was not suffering from those things,” Crumbley said.
McKeown said that was “certainly possible.”
The clinical and forensic psychologist, however, pursued his initial point, in which his determination was that the level of psychosis the defendant suffered was not consistent with being incapable of determining right from wrong.
“There was nothing with Michael Lindsay to show that he heard voices to push him to murder.”
Aftab was the final witness in the Wednesday iteration of the case. The trial will continue today at 9 a.m. in the large courtroom on the third floor of the Cullman County Courthouse.
* Zach Winslett can be contacted at email@example.com or (256) 734-2131, ext. 137.