Judge to decide whether to release Braxton Moody IV from a mental hospital; medical reports open to public view _lowres

Braxton I. Moody IV

Braxton Moody IV was to have pleaded guilty Thursday to charges related to shooting up the SUV belonging to his ex-wife’s boyfriend in July, but the judge chose instead to weigh for himself whether Moody is mentally fit to be released from a psychiatric hospital.

The hearing in Judge Patrick Michot’s court also delved into whether some of Moody’s medical records that were placed into the public case file should be sealed. Moody’s attorney, Lawrence Billeaud, argued the records fall under the HIPAA federal privacy rules, and that they should be sealed at least until an appellate court reviews the case.

Michot, however, chose to keep open the entire criminal case file, which has copies of the medical reports written about Moody during his confinement at Eastern Louisiana Mental Health Hospital in Jackson.

“The public has a right to look over my shoulder,” Michot said. “They’re not able to do that if they (the records) are sealed.”

Michot also ruled that Moody is now competent to take part in court proceedings, but the plea hearing was delayed pending Billeaud’s request for a 3rd Circuit Court of Appeal review of the records issue. Billeaud said he will file for the review by May 1.

Moody, who has a history of mental illness, was charged with one count each of aggravated criminal damage to property and drive-by shooting in a July 22 incident in which he is accused of shooting up the Cadillac Escalade belonging to Lafayette orthopedist J. Lee Leonard.

Leonard and Moody’s ex-wife had returned to Leonard’s home after dining out when Moody allegedly fired the shots about 11 p.m. that night. A few days later, police arrested Moody at Baton Rouge Metropolitan Airport, where they found a handgun and a shotgun in Moody’s Land Rover.

Following the reviews of two mental health experts who believed Moody was too sick to stand trial, Michot ordered the 64-year-old to be treated at Eastern, located in East Feliciana Parish.

Moody faced a maximum of 20 years in prison on the charges if he had been found guilty at a trial, and it was unclear Thursday exactly what the plea agreement worked out between Moody’s attorney and prosecutors would have called for. But the courtroom proceedings indicate Moody would have been placed in his home, with home health care and around-the-clock medical monitoring.

Dr. José Artecona, a psychiatrist who has treated Moody at Eastern since late last year, said that in February Moody was judged competent by doctors to take part in court proceedings. Artecona said Moody suffers from bipolar I disorder, commonly called manic-depression, where stretches of normality are followed by periods of feverish mental highs and depressive lows. Decisions made during these phases are not rational, Artecona said.

He said Moody has gotten better with an effective regimen of medications that have brought the illness under control.

Moody is the eldest son of Crowley-born businessman B.I. Moody III, whose name adorns the University of Louisiana at Lafayette’s college of business. The Moody family has a range of successful businesses, including restaurants and small-town newspapers.

According to the case records that his attorney wanted sealed, Moody’s mental condition progressed in the months he was on medication and in the psychiatric ward at Eastern Hospital.

“His delusions remained although he slowly began to gain distance from his delusions,” Artecona wrote after he began treating Moody in October. “He started to gain insight into the symptoms of this mental illness.”

By November, Moody’s “thought processes were linear and goal-directed at times” but the “content of Mr. Moody’s speech involved delusions involving persecutory beliefs and some reflected a grandiose quality,” according to the report written by Artecona and psychologist Pamela Windham.

By February, the pair wrote, Moody had a good grasp of the charges that were filed against him in the Cadillac Escalade shoot-up in July: “He adequately described the role of the judge, district attorney, defense attorney, jury and witnesses. … He is able to utilize his legal rights in a reasonable manner.”

Thomas Guilbeau, an attorney representing Leonard, objected to Artecona and other mental health experts who classify Moody’s mental affliction as bipolar I disorder.

Guilbeau referenced a September sanity commission report, which Michot had used as his basis for declaring Moody incompetent for trial. In that report, a psychiatric team diagnosed Moody with the more serious bipolar schizoaffective disorder, which exhibits symptoms of schizophrenia and mood disorder.

Guilbeau also objected to Moody’s records being sealed. He said that as a victim, Leonard and Moody’s ex-wife have a right to gauge Moody’s mental state if he is to be released.

“We’re the victims in this case,” Guilbeau said. “We have a right to look at the medical records.”