A hearing to determine the mental status of a woman charged with killing her foster child for the insurance money ended abruptly in 2nd District Court Monday when she suffered an apparent seizure and toppled from the witness stand.
"It's going black - it's going black, mom," said Tonya Vos-burgh, 34, in a halting, childlike voice as she raised her left arm and then fell from the chair.Judge Jon Memmott suspended the hearing into her mental status as paramedics rushed into the court-room.
Vosburgh and her husband, John "Rick" Vosburgh, 44, are charged with murder and insurance fraud in the March 3, 1993, fire in their Layton garage that killed Bobbi Jo Womack, 18.
Although charged with first-degree felonies and potentially facing the death penalty, neither of the Vosburghs has entered a plea yet since their arraignment in Layton Circuit Court in the 21/2-year-old case.
The fire that killed Womack was intentionally set, prosecutors charge, to collect on a $100,000 life insurance policy the Vosburghs took out on the victim.
Womack was mentally disabled and had some physical disabilities as the result of a car accident she was in at age 12. Tonya Vosburgh met Womack while working as an aide in a care center and the Vosburghs eventually sought and were granted custody of her.
Womack's family filed a $2.5 million wrongful death suit in May in 3rd District Court, charging officials of the Department of Human Services failed to act on complaints about the Vosburghs' treatment of the girl and others the state placed in their care.
Tonya Vosburgh has suffered from a series of falls, head injuries, and apparent strokes that defense attorney Earl Spafford maintains have left her unfit to stand trial.
But two psychiatrists testified earlier Monday they believe the woman is either faking or exaggerating her injuries, backing up the report of a third psychiatrist who examined her earlier.
Tonya Vosburgh is mostly confined to a wheelchair, suffers from seizures, takes eight to 10 medications a day, and has the mental acuity of a child, according to testimony from her husband, Rick.
While she has some lucid periods, he said, she remembers little from day to day and requires constant care.
But Layton Police detective Joe Morrison presented a different picture.
Morrison surreptitiously videotaped Tonya Vosburgh for a month earlier this year, using a video camera and recording equipment secreted in an apartment across the hall from theirs, he testified.
Reviewing some 80 hours of footage, Morrison compiled relevant portions into two tapes he submitted to the judge. They show Tonya Vosburgh as more active and alert than she appears, he said, including one segment of a lucid conversation with her that lasted for almost an hour.
During that and other conversations, she spoke normally, Morrison said.
On the stand Monday afternoon, Tonya Vosburgh appeared confused, emotional and answered questions in a high-pitched, garbled manner that both prosecutors and her defense attorney call "baby talk."
Asked if she knows she is charged with murder and that she could go to prison, Tonya replied: "I be good. No hurt nobody. I be good." She referred to her attorney as "Mr. Man," the judge as "the boss" and prosecutor Carvel Harward as "the bad man."
Under cross examination by Harward, Tonya Vosburgh answered some simple questions, then appeared to become confused and began to cry, saying she wanted to go home. Shortly after that, she suffered the apparent seizure.
Two psychiatrists, Dr. Lewis Moench and Dr. Mark Rindflesh, testified earlier in the hearing they believe Tonya Vosburgh is malingering or faking her symptoms.
She shows no evidence of a mental disorder and is competent, they both concluded.