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Board that monitors Arizona's 'guilty except insane' cases has too many vacancies to function

The PSRB is supposed to hold monthly meetings, but for the past four months has canceled the sessions, due to lack of quorum.

ARIZONA, USA — A controversial state Board hasn't been able to meet for the past four months.

The state’s Psychiatric Security Review Board (PSRB) is responsible for overseeing people deemed "guilty except insane" after committing a violent crime.  

The Board is supposed to hold monthly meetings, but for the past four months has canceled the sessions, due to a lack of quorum.

Life doesn't always mean life

There are roughly 113 people under what used to be the five-person Board’s watch, according to the latest available Board data.

All of those people are deemed guilty except insane for violent crimes, like murder or aggravated assault.

Each person is supposed to go before the Board at least every two years for a check-in, where they can ask for more freedoms. The goal of the state statute is for people to get treatment at the state hospital and potentially reach a point where their mental illness is in remission, which would make them eligible to potentially be released into the community.

Under Arizona law, the PSRB can decide if a person deemed guilty except insane can take trips off hospital grounds or potentially go back and live in the community.

That’s what happened with Christopher Lambeth, who plead Guilty Except Insane and was sentenced 25 to life in 2007 for killing his grandparents.  

PSRB records show Lambeth was approved to be released to the community in 2016 and was arrested for killing a housemate at a Gilbert group home in 2021 while he was still under the Board’s watch.

Prior to this, a 2018 state audit found the Board was making decisions with inconsistent data, a claim the Board disputed.

PSRB's impact on the public

"It's been hard," said Janine Rodriguez. "It's been really hard."

Janine Rodriguez has lived more than a decade without her brother Adam Cooley. Adam was gunned down shortly after Christmas in 2020 when gunman Gavin McFarlane opened fire at the club where Adam worked as a bouncer in Phoenix.

Police said McFarlane shot four people, killing two of them, including Adam.

"It's been hard my with nieces and nephews having children and telling them who Adam is," she explained. "Because they never had a chance to meet him. So, that's rough."

McFarlane pleaded guilty except insane and was sentenced to 25 to life at Arizona’s State Hospital for treatment, under the watch of the Psychiatric Security Review Board.

"My brother," Janine said. "I wouldn't ever stop fighting for justice for him. And this isn't justice yet."

Every time Janine’s brother’s killer has gone before the Board, Janine’s family has petitioned against his release, fearing another deadly outcome. Having to face this case over and over again takes its toll.

"I don't think that I'm ready to run into the guy that just walked up to my brother shot him," she said. "But also, he's dangerous. Like, it's dangerous to have somebody who just killed two strangers out in the public."

Changes for the Board

In the wake of the Gilbert group home killing, Governor Doug Ducey signed a new law that will get rid of the PSRB in 2023 and move all guilty except insane case to the state’s court systems. Until then, the Board still has to operate to monitor the criminally insane population.

But the law did away with one position and 12 News confirmed two other Board members resigned by early 2022. 

So, since February, the Board hasn’t had enough people for monthly meetings. In each month since February, the Board has posted meeting cancellation notices on its website, meaning those due for check-ins are in limbo until the Governor's Office appoints new members.

A spokesperson for Arizona's Department of Health Services said operations at Arizona's State Hospital haven't changed in regards to the cancellation of PSRB meetings. 

"We're not serving those that are in there that statutorily should have a hearing every two years," Janine said. "And there are people that are missing their hearings. And that's not right. I mean, they may have committed a crime, and they're in there, but we still have to follow the law and give them their hearings."

Board members can only be appointed by the Governor.  

The Governor’s Office says it’s taking applications and "proactively searching for applicants" by "reaching out to people who know others that would qualify."

In an email, a spokesperson said they've received five applications since January 1, 2020.

The email further stated that the criteria for the vacant spots are specific, including:

  • One licensed psychologist who is experienced in the criminal justice system and who is not otherwise contracted to or employed by this state.
  • One person who is from the general public, who is a former judge, and who does not qualify for membership on the board under paragraph 1, 2 or 3 of this subsection.
  • One person who is either a licensed psychologist or a licensed psychiatrist who is experienced in the criminal justice system and who is not otherwise contracted to or employed by this state.

For more on the PSRB and guilty except insane laws, you can download the 12 News I-Team’s podcast Locked Inside and stream the Locked Inside documentary on the 12 News YouTube page.


Learn more about other 12 News investigations by subscribing to the 12 News YouTube channel and watching our I-Team playlist. 

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