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Ryan Coventon

Norman Man Charged with Wife's Murder Found Not Guilty by Reason of Insanity

Ryan Coventon - Thursday, April 13, 2017

A Norman man charged with first degree murder in the 2014 stabbing death of his wife has been acquitted of the crime after a Cleveland County judge found him not guilty by reason of insanity.

At approximately 3:35 a.m. on April 19, 2014, Abid Sandhu called 9-1-1 to report that he had "killed someone" and needed police. When police arrived at Sandhu's home, they found his wife, Sidra Sandhu, dead of multiple stab wounds. Police said that Sandhu made incriminating statements, and they arrested him and took him to the Cleveland County Jail, where he was held without bond on a first degree murder complaint.

At the time of his arrest, Sandhu told police that he had been arguing with his wife and he "lost it," grabbing a kitchen knife and stabbing her repeatedly.

Eventually, Sandhu was found incompetent to stand trial, and his court record is filled with competency evaluations and orders to involuntarily medicate the defendant.

By January 2015, Sandhu was ordered to commitment in the Oklahoma Forensic Center, under the supervision of the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services. However, at that time, the Center was at maximum occupancy and Sandhu was placed on a waiting list for transfer from the jail to the Oklahoma Forensic Center.

By June 2016, the man's defense attorney filed notice of intent to raise questions of mental illness or insanity at the time of the offense.

Both defense witnesses and prosecution witnesses who evaluated Sandhu's mental competency determined that at the time he killed his wife, Abid Sandhu was incapable of forming criminal intent.

Cleveland County District District Judge Thad Balkman presided over a bench trial, or a non-jury trial, in which doctors for both the prosecution and defense asserted in written documents that Sandhu was legally insane. No witnesses were called during the trial. Judge Balkman noted that both the prosecution and the defense were in agreement about the defendant's mental state, and he declared the man not guilty by reason of insanity. The judge ordered Sandhu to commitment at the Oklahoma Forensic Center in Vinita.

Although he has been acquitted of murder, the man cannot be released from the Oklahoma Forensic Center unless doctors determine that he has regained competency and he is no longer a threat to others. If that should happen, further court proceedings would be required to determine whether or not he was truly no longer a threat and could be released from custody of the state mental hospital.

Some people are advocating a change from finding defendants "not guilty by reason of insanity" to "guilty but insane." If a person is found not guilty by reason of insanity, he or she is committed to the state mental hospital and is allowed to be released if and when he or she has competency restored and is determined to no longer be a threat to others. If a person is found guilty but insane, he or she is likewise committed to the state mental hospital for treatment, but if and when competency is restored, he or she is transferred to prison to serve out the remainder of the sentence. 

Image credit: Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services

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