By Nancy West, InDepthNH.org
MANCHESTER – Kevin “Kelly” Gearhart was released to the street on Wednesday after Hillsborough County Superior Court Judge Gillian Abramson vacated Gearhart’s not guilty by reason of insanity plea and accepted guilty pleas to criminal offenses instead.
Gearhart, 52, who is transitioning from male to female, was released after Judge Abramson accepted a negotiated plea in Manchester in which Gearhart pleaded guilty to two class A felonies and one class A misdemeanor charge. Abramson agreed to release Gearhart on time served, just over 600 days.
After originally pleading not guilty by reason of insanity, Gearhart was committed to the Secure Psychiatric Unit at the men’s prison in Concord where she was given female hormones and issued women’s underwear. She asked to vacate her insanity plea claiming she was harassed and abused at SPU and not given the appropriate mental health care.
“I have to go to the streets to get treatment,” Gearhart said in a recent telephone interview. Gearhart said she would comment later when reached after the hearing.
Gearhart also filed a separate motion which she argued March 9 in Merrimack County Superior Court making similar arguments and asking to be moved to New Hampshire Hospital, the state’s psychiatric hospital. She had hoped the judge would rule it unconstitutional to hold mentally ill people in the Secure Psychiatric Unit if they had been civilly committed.
Gearhart, who told Abramson she had a ninth-grade education, will be on probation for one year and could face prison on the criminal charges if she violates the conditions. Gearhart was originally charged with receiving stolen property, escape and attempted theft.
Abramson asked Gearhart if she understood the penalties for the crimes if she violates probation. At first, Gearhart said the felonies would mean a 3 1/2 to 7 year prison term, but after consulting with her attorney Sarah Rothman, Gearhart said it would be 7 1/2 to 15 years for a class A felony.
“Do you understand if you violate probation you are subject to the maximum penalties you and I just discussed, not just the sentences that are being suspended today?” Abramson asked.
Gearhart answered: “Yes.”
Gearhart said she was happy with her lawyer and knowingly pleading guilty to the crimes and was quietly led from court.
At the March 9 hearing, Gearhart represented herself in a separate hearing in Merrimack County Superior Court.
“It’s unconstitutional for the Department of Mental Health to put people in SPU,” Gearhart said in the motion she argued March 9. “Patients in the SPU although not convicted are subject to DNA collection. Patients like the felons are subjected to shackles, tasers, strip searches and extended segregation,” Gearhart wrote.
The Secure Psychiatric Unit is under the direction of the Department of Corrections, on the grounds of the state prison for men and staffed by corrections officers. It has been the focus of controversy for years as advocates say mentally ill people who haven’t been convicted of a crime shouldn’t be held at state prison.
At that hearing, Deb Robinson, the administrator of the Secure Psychiatric Unit, testified that Gearhart did get appropriate psychological treatment from a trained team.
Robinson said Gearhart didn’t always take advantage of the groups available to her, but Gearhart said that is because of threats from other inmates and patients. Robinson acknowledged that there had been some animosity, but each incident had been addressed.