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Glenda Forrest

She came into the courtroom in a yellow jumpsuit, using a walker to find her seat.

Glenda Forrest was facing a first-degree murder charge for stabbing her 65-year-old brother to death in April 2014. But on Thursday in Hamilton County Criminal Court, attorneys agreed in a plea deal to reduce that charge to voluntary manslaughter — a class C felony that carried six to 10 years in prison instead of life behind bars.

Then, by the end of a lengthy sentencing hearing that included an in-depth discussion on the intersection of mental health, addiction and trauma in the modern justice system, Judge Barry Steelman sent Forrest to Mental Health Court on supervised probation. He also ordered the 65-year-old woman to get alcohol monitoring.

"The biggest reservation I have is that I'm not sure if any one of us in this place would want to share a room with her," Steelman said as he weighed close to four hours of witness testimony. "We can all agree to put her in a Senior Manor facility, but I'm not sure anybody can sleep at night, or turn the lights out. And that's what concerns me the most."

Forrest, however, had no prior criminal convictions, Steelman said.

Her story that Donald Barnes, her brother, was drunk and threatening that night matched the physical evidence — a blood alcohol content of 0.179. Her uncle's testimony that Forrest was a good person until she drank helped her case. Because the maximum sentence for her charge was 10 years, she would probably be eligible for parole after serving 35 percent of it, and she had already been in custody for a little over two years. And, because of her many mental and physical conditions, she would probably be a good candidate for release.

Steelman weighed all these factors aloud before coming to his decision.

"Although it is a risk," he said, "I believe it is a risk that is going to occur at some point anyway — whether it occurs now or a year from now. And, really, for the longterm safety of the public, I think that risk is one the court would take now with all of these services."

Those services included those provided by the numerous Mental Health Court coordinators and clinicians who appeared for Forrest's hearing. The same ones who had worked to secure her housing and acceptance in the alternative sentencing court program as early as September 2015. Brandy Spurgin, the 65-year-old woman's defense attorney, called several such coordinators to the stand.

In particular, Jean Cobb, a licensed clinical psychologist who works with Mental Health Court, outlined Forrest's mental state: Raped twice, Forrest suffered from post traumatic stress disorder and major depressive swings. Three times she attempted suicide — the most recent being 2015 within Silverdale Correctional Facilities. Another being the night she stabbed her brother. Authorities found her with a filet knife and cuts on her body. Furthermore, since his death, Forrest had little to no support system.

Steelman said he struggled with how the mental health disorders and addictions came together. "Again, I come back to what the uncle said, which is that alcohol seems to be the real driving factor behind this factor."

Cobb seemed to agree, but also said the two could work in tandem.

"With the information I'm hearing today," she said, "in my clinical opinion, it is the most significant factor. It does not mean she doesn't have mental health issues, though.

"The night of the events, he was intoxicated," Cobb continued. "She helped him to bed. He got aggressive. She carried a knife on her. Her response to his aggression was related to her earlier trauma."

By the end, Steelman agreed to send Forrest to Senior Manor, a state-licensed group home with seven beds and a strict no drinking and no weapons rule, officials testified.

Her attorney, Spurgin, said she was grateful for the result.

"It was definitely a great outcome," she said afterward. "A lot of work was put in from all sides to make that happen, and I expect nothing but the best outcome for Glenda. She was a pleasure to work with and I am glad Judge Steelman and everyone else who put in the effort that was seen today at the hearing saw that, as a 65-year-old woman, her likelihood of success was greatly increased with the wraparound support of the Mental Health Court team."

Contact staff writer Zack Peterson at zpeterson@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6347. Follow on Twitter @zackpeterson918.

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