Joseph Brant

A booking photograph of Joseph Brant, who New Orleans authorities say has confessed to killing a series of young women in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. (OPSO)

A New Orleans judge has ordered a suspected serial killer sent to Louisiana’s mental hospital on an emergency basis after a forensic psychologist said he believes the defendant suffers from schizoaffective disorder.

Separately, another judge ordered a woman suspected of stabbing two people outside a Mid-City church last week sent to the same hospital after being told that she is acutely psychotic.

Criminal District Court Judge Robin Pittman said that Joseph Brant, who has pleaded guilty to killing one woman and awaits trial for the deaths of three more in the years after Hurricane Katrina, must be sent to the Eastern Louisiana Mental Health System hospital in Jackson to have his competency restored, if possible.

Pittman’s decision followed months of courtroom outbursts from Brant, who last year had seemed poised to swiftly resolve his open cases with guilty pleas.

The judge made her decision after hearing testimony from Dr. Rafael Salcedo, who attempted to interview Brant on Thursday morning.

Salcedo said Brant refused to meet with him and Orleans Public Defenders lawyers. But based on his disruptive behavior and medical records from Brant’s previous prison term in Texas, the doctor said he believes that Brant has schizoaffective disorder.

“His symptoms seem to fluctuate, and schizoaffective disorder involves a combination of symptoms of schizophrenia and bipolar disorder,” he said.

Salcedo said that while Brant was serving time in Texas for burglary, prison doctors placed him on Haldol, a powerful anti-psychotic drug. He said Brant’s symptoms appeared to be so serious that he would recommend his transfer to a hospital on an emergency basis.

The doctor added that Brant’s most recent bizarre behavior has included quoting the writer Maya Angelou. Brant also rejected a meeting with his lawyer, Barksdale Hortenstine, an action which Salcedo called paranoid.

“He didn't want to come out because you were white and part of this system that was going to treat him unfairly,” Salcedo said in response to a question from Hortenstine. “So he had these fixed delusions that he was not going to get a fair shake today.”

Brant refused to enter the courtroom for the competency hearing.

He pleaded guilty in December 2016 to the August 2008 killing of Jessica Hawk and was set to begin a life term in Louisiana prisons after serving out his separate Texas burglary sentence.

Then, at the start of 2018, Brant confessed to three more killings in the years after Katrina.

He said he strangled an unidentified woman and burned her body in St. Roch on Oct. 17, 2007; shot to death Jody Johnson, 47, on Jan. 11, 2008; and shot to death Kirsten Brydum, 25, on Sept. 27, 2008.

In exchange for the confession, prosecutors agreed not to seek the death penalty for Brant on three counts of first-degree murder. However, when Brant returned to Louisiana he refused to sign a formal waiver of his rights while entering a guilty plea.

Also on Thursday, Magistrate Judge Harry Cantrell ordered Uhuru Howard sent to the state mental hospital after hearing from another doctor about her mental health.

Howard, 46, is accused of stabbing two people outside a Mid-City church on April 4, three months after she was accused of stabbing a man in the French Quarter.

Like Brant, Howard refused to meet with a forensic expert, Dr. Richard Turner.

She made a circling motion with her hands and spoke with increasing volume as Turner answered questions from Assistant District Attorney Michael Henn and Hortenstine at a hearing in Magistrate Court on Thursday.

Turner said Howard is "acutely psychotic" and needs to be treated "as soon as possible."

Turner said that she exhibited signs of "disordered" behavior in court. He also said that according to her mother, Howard experienced traumatic events in her early life. Howard is a U.S. Army veteran, according to her mother's lawyer.

Howard attempted suicide in September 2005 by drinking battery acid and rat poison, Turner said. More recently, she has been treated at a psychiatric hospital and by the Department of Veterans Affairs.

She has told her mother that people are listening to her and "controlling her externally," according to Howard.

Under Louisiana law, both Brant and Howard will remain under doctors' care until judges decide that they are able to understand the case against them and assist their attorneys.


Follow Matt Sledge on Twitter, @mgsledge.