A court-appointed psychologist investigating the mental health of a Fairfax County mother charged with the 2018 murders of her two daughters suggests Veronica Youngblood is feigning or exaggerating mental illness.
Youngblood allegedly shot her daughters, 5-year-old Brooklynn Youngblood and 15-year-old Sharon Castro, in their McLean, Virginia, apartment in August 2018. She was indicted in May 2019 on two counts of murder and two counts of the use of a firearm during the commission of murder.
In August of last year, Youngblood’s public defender, Dawn Butorac, said she was considering an insanity defense. Butorac filed a motion at that time to have the court pay for a specific doctor to investigate the question of whether Youngblood was sane at the time of the offense. Fairfax County Circuit Court Judge Bruce White instead named doctor of psychology Katherine Snably to investigate Youngblood.
In court records obtained by WTOP, Butorac filed another motion in February 2020, again seeking to have the court hire her preferred doctor, adding that Snably had reacted negatively to the judge’s order.
White denied the motion in March, but details contained in Butorac’s motion had remained unreported. Youngblood will go on trial in January 2021.
Butorac said Snably’s reaction to the order appointing her to the case led to “expression of her frustration” to her supervisors and potential witnesses, which ultimately affected the indigent Youngblood’s right to “basic tools of an adequate defense,” as required by the Constitution, wrote the public defender.
According to Butorac, Snably’s report said she could not rule out malingering.
“It is concerning that Dr. Snably suggests that Ms. Youngblood is malingering, yet fails to perform the necessary tests to allay these concerns,” according to the defense motion. “It is standard practice to test for malingering if there is even the hint that it may exist.”
In last August’s court hearing, Butorac said Youngblood had a long history of mental health issues, as well as suicide attempts and “a trauma background.”
In the February motion, Butorac said on the night Youngblood’s children were killed, “She also intended to kill herself that night but did not follow through with that plan.”
Butorac said Snably had acknowledged in conversations that Youngblood’s actions on Aug. 5, 2018, could have been, at least in part, attributable to depression exacerbated by earlier abuse. “Dr. Snably’s report did not reflect that acknowledgment, however, despite the fact that counsel had explained to her that counsel believed the trauma was the motivating factor for her behavior on the date of the offense.”
On the issue of whether Youngblood was able to understand right from wrong, Butorac said “Dr. Snably relied solely on Ms. Youngblood’s statement to the police in making the determination.”
Butorac said her client’s statement to the police “is internally inconsistent and nonsensical,” yet Snably didn’t ask Youngblood why the evidence didn’t support her memory of the event.
“Instead of exploring whether that issue was related to Ms. Youngblood’s mental illness and the factors to consider regarding sanity at the time of the offense, Dr. Snably just moved on with her interview,” wrote Butorac.
Butorac had sought to have the court allocate money to allow the hiring of clinical psychologist Michael Hendricks as an expert witness, since he was experienced in murder cases in which the defense is considering a plea of not guilty by reason of insanity.
Butorac said Youngblood’s case was Snably’s first sanity evaluation in a murder case.
Contacted by WTOP, Butorac declined to say whether she now intends to invoke an insanity defense, or whether she will find another way to have Hendricks or another doctor evaluate her client, given the judge’s refusal to allocate court money.
An email seeking comment from Snably was not immediately returned.
A spokesperson for Fairfax County Commonwealth’s Attorney Steve Descano declined to comment, citing the pending case.
If convicted, Youngblood faces two life sentences in prison.