TAMPA – Attorneys for the woman accused of wading into the Hillsborough River with her 4 year old daughter and drowning the girl will argue she was insane at the time of the crime.
Two mental health experts are ready to claim that Shakayla Denson did not know what she was doing or the consequences of her actions, according to a written insanity defense notice filed in Hillsborough Circuit Court last week.
An expert has reportedly identified Denson’s condition as an unspecified psychotic disorder. Another said she had “severe depression with psychotic characteristics”.
The announcement marks the start of a trial in which the defense will ask a jury to find Denson not guilty of madness. In this case, a judge must determine the course of Denson’s future mental health care, which could include a state hospital commitment.
In a brief trial Tuesday, a prosecutor said the state had hired its own mental health experts to investigate Denson in anticipation of an insane defense. Your next court date is July.
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Denson, 28, is charged with the murder of her daughter Je’Hyrah Daniels.
On August 2, 2018, police said Denson stole a car from an auto repair shop on N 40th Street. She then drove to the N Rome Avenue and Aileen Street area. Witnesses told police Denson took the girl out of the car and dragged her to the river in the fight. The mother waded into shoulder-deep water and then let the girl go, the police said.
Police divers later found Je’Hyrah’s body near Columbus Drive Bridge.
Officials arrested Denson nearby. She told them her daughter was “clean” now and, according to court records, with her grandmother.
The case had questions about Denson’s mental state from the start.
Shortly after she was charged, Denson was found incapable of trial and spent three months in a state hospital. After treatment, experts said she understood the charges against her and could help with her defense.
Weeks before her daughter’s death, Denson received a visit from a child protection officer in response to a report from someone concerned that she appeared “overwhelmed and tired” while caring for the girl diagnosed with autism. Expressing his shock, Denson assured the investigator that she was a good parent, but recognized the challenge of looking after a child with special needs.
The investigator found that Je’Hyrah appeared happy and healthy. The report was completed with no evidence of abuse or neglect. A subsequent review by the Department for Children and Families showed that the case had been handled appropriately.