A mother charged in the slayings of two of her children whose bodies were found in the deep freezer at their Detroit home will undergo psychiatric exams, a judge said at a probable cause hearing on Thursday.
Mitchelle Blair, 35, was also arraigned on two counts each of felony murder, premeditated murder and torture. Blair was arrested on Tuesday last week.
Court officers conducting a March 24 eviction at Blair’s eastside apartment discovered the frozen corpses of 13-year-old Stoni Ann Blair and 9-year-old Stephen Gage Berry beneath plastic in the freezer.
Neighbors said they hadn’t seen the dead children in about a year. None of the four children was enrolled in Detroit schools, and friends said their mother was home-schooling them.
The woman has lived in the complex at least 10 years. She was unemployed and having money troubles, and she had gotten behind on her rent. Neighbors said they knew about the impending eviction.
State officials will conduct forensic tests to establish whether Blair is competent to stand trial. Her attorney also requested an independent psychiatric evaluation to discover if she is competent to stand trial and if she was competent to waive her Miranda rights before investigators say she confessed.
Judge Kenneth King granted the independent evaluation — which Wayne County would fund — but said that it seemed “wasteful” because “there is a good chance a forensic examination may find her incompetent.”
Defense attorney Wyatt Harris told reporters that Blair struggles to discuss the case with him.
“There are times when she can communicate in a very effective manner. Then, there are times when she can’t,” Harris said outside the courtroom.
Autopsies determined both of Blair’s dead children had been beaten. Investigators believe Stephen died in August 2012 and Stoni died the following May.
Blair’s surviving children, a 17-year-old girl and 8-year-old boy, have been placed in a relative’s care. The state Department of Human Services filed last week to end Blair’s parental rights.
In that court filing, the state said the 17-year-old told investigators she and her surviving brother were beaten with an extension cord and piece of wood, hit with a hot curling iron and burned with a clothing iron.
“Blair tortured Stephen for approximately two weeks prior to his death by tying a belt around his neck, throwing hot water on him while in the shower and putting a plastic bag over his head,” the state said, quoting the 17-year-old.
Stephen was “unresponsive” on August 30, 2012, and Blair wrapped his body in bed linen and put him in the freezer, the state said.
Nine months later, Blair became “enraged” when Stoni said she didn’t like her surviving siblings and strangled the girl with a T-shirt and suffocated her with a plastic bag, the department said. Blair then made the teen “put Stoni in the deep freezer following her death,” the agency said.
King entered a not guilty plea on Blair’s behalf and scheduled her preliminary examination for June 19. She was ordered to remain jailed.