Nashville’s duly-elected District Attorney Glenn Funk, a former defense attorney, promised to take an active role in controversial cases. According to The Tennessean, he recently fulfilled that promise by personally taking over a child neglect case after his Assistant District Attorney Brian Holmgren offered mentally ill defendant Jasmine Randers an unusual plea deal — either she would be sterilized or face a minimum of 15 years in prison.
Randers, a 36-year-old California-born woman who suffers from schizoaffective disorder and who has been in-and-out of psychiatric care since she was 15, brought her lifeless 4-year-old daughter Issabelle to a Nashville hospital. Though her daughter’s cause of death is unknown and could not be determined by autopsy, Holmgren charged her with aggravated child neglect, citing the facts that she did not possess formula bottles at the time of her child’s death and that she took a taxi to the hospital rather than an ambulance. At the time of her death, Issabelle was a healthy weight, showed no signs of trauma, and had food in her stomach.
Said Randers to The Tennessean, “I believe I was very sick and I, I guess, she was very sick, and I came here without a lot of money… And she ended up dying prior to the hospital where she was pronounced dead. Ever since then we’ve been trying to figure out how much I was responsible for that.”
Randers’ criminal case initially pitted Assistant District Attorney Brian Holmgren, a nationally-renowned child abuse prosecutor and member of the international advisory board of the National Center on Shaken Baby Syndrome, against Assistant Public Defender Mary Kathryn Harcombe. Holmgren said he would only offer Randers, who was facing at least 15 years in prison for aggravated child neglect, an opportunity to take a plea deal if she would agree to submit to a sterilization procedure. Harcombe, who found the offer to be “inherently coercive,” reported the plea deal to District Attorney Glenn Funk, Holmgren’s boss.
After reviewing the facts, Funk disagreed with Holmgren’s approach and took over the case. “I have let my office know that [sterilization] is not an appropriate condition of a plea… It is now policy that sterilization will never be a condition of deal-making in the district attorney’s office.”
Noting the fact that a group of doctors unanimously found that Randers suffered from serious mental disabilities that would justify an insanity defense, Funk agreed to a deal in which Randers would be found not guilty by reason of insanity and committed to a psychiatric hospital.