|In her delusional mind, Marci Webber thought her daughter was in grave danger.
Webber said she felt as if members of a secret evil society were pursuing her and her youngest child, Maggie, intent on
kidnapping and sexually enslaving the girl, whose soul would be cast into hell for eternity.
And so, on that November morning in west suburban Bloomingdale, a month after she celebrated her child's fourth birthday
and days after dressing her as the Little Mermaid for Halloween, the then 43-year-old woman slashed her daughter's throat
and attempted suicide, first starting an audio tape recorder to document "angels taking us to heaven."
Webber was found not guilty by reason of insanity in 2012 and sent to a secured state mental facility for up to 100 years of
psychiatric confinement. Five years later, with recent treatment plan reports stating she is stable and free of signs of a major
mental illness, Webber is seeking release. She hopes to convince a DuPage County judge that she is of sound mind and no
longer a danger to herself or others.
Since his insanity verdict, Judge George Bakalis has regularly reviewed Webber's progress reports and found she is in need
of continued inpatient treatment. But, for the first time, a Sept. 26 court hearing is scheduled on a petition Webber filed
nearly three years ago seeking discharge or conditional release.
Prosecutors are expected to object to her petition.
Her case offers a rare look at what happens to criminal defendants who are found insane, committed to state psychiatric
hospitals for treatment and then, due to privacy laws, often forgotten about by a public that is unaware if the person is free
or still in a secured setting.
In a series of Tribune interviews over four years, the now 50-year-old Webber has insisted she is not mentally ill. Webber
said she takes "full responsibility" for her deadly actions but she believes they were fueled by a temporary psychosis due to
her long-term use and sudden withdrawal from an array of antidepressant and antipsychotic prescription medications.
As the use of prescribed psychiatric drugs became more common, debate about whether some can be linked in rare cases to
homicidal and suicidal behavior has failed to gain ground in criminal courtrooms. The issue was not addressed in Webber's
Still, in the last four years, Webber's medical records show, she has refused all such drugs and remained free of the
paranoid, psychotic delusions and hallucinations that she believes sparked the Nov. 3, 2010, tragedy. Her diagnosis of major
depressive disorder is in full remission, according to the reports, which Webber provided to the Tribune.
Despite her progress, Webber's frustration with continued commitment and her refusal to follow some program directives,
such as group therapy sessions, has led to conflict with staff, records showed. Webber said she meditates in her room, seeks
coping advice in self-help books, and has sought out experts across the world for answers regarding the effects of
During a recent interview at the Chicago Read Mental Health Center, Webber told the Tribune her continued hospitalization
is not necessary. She hopes to transition to a group home in Arizona to be near her elderly father, who she said is ill, as well
as work to strengthen other strained family relationships.
Dressed in a vibrant blue turtleneck sweater and slacks, Webber over the next two hours unspooled a narrative of how a life
filled with great potential descended into such violence.
She was tearful but lucid when the conversation turned to her slain child, Maggie, the youngest of her three daughters, who
loved to swim, play with dolls and would often say, "I lub you momma."
Public sentiment regarding insanity verdicts and subsequent discharges is not on Webber's side.
"Everyone's reaction is, 'How can a mother do something like that?'" she said. "I understand that. I couldn't imagine that I
could have done this either, but anyone who has a true psychosis knows you don't have the ability to make a choice.
"I had no concept of pain or that I was hurting her. I thought I was saving her."
Webber said she mostly passes time writing in her journal, penning poems about her life, and reading medical and legal
publications to try to make sense of something so nonsensical.
She transferred to Chicago Read on the city's Northwest Side last October after four years inside the Elgin Mental Health
Center, which she unsuccessfully sued in federal court alleging mistreatment by patients and staff.
A Woodstock native, Webber was once a highly functioning member of society.
She served two years in the Army and graduated from the University of Illinois in Chicago. Webber moved with her
firstborn daughter to upstate New York in 1999 and attended law school off and on in Albany while working and
volunteering for various environmental, youth, and legal causes.
But, she said, her reliance on psychiatric drugs increased over the years amid hospitalizations, two failed marriages,
child-custody battles, a prolonged lawsuit against her psychologist and financial woes.
She gave birth to her third child, Magdalene "Maggie" Webber, on Oct. 5, 2006, after a brief relationship with a man who
was never involved in the child's life.
Webber said she stopped taking her medications around May 2010 after forgetting them during an extended trip to visit her
mother in suburban Chicago. She returned home briefly that summer but, back in Illinois that fall, she resumed use of at
least one prescription.
As her mental state and physical symptoms worsened, the court expert later noted, Webber suffered a "break from reality"
and began having uncontrolled paranoid delusions. She now attributes that to psychiatric medication withdrawal.
In his insanity verdict, Judge Bakalis said Webber clearly loved her daughter but appeared driven by her psychosis.
"Love can be a very nurturing thing between a parent and a child," the judge said at the time. "Love apparently, when
coupled with paranoia, can be a very destructive force."
Not guilty, not free
In the legal sense, Marci Webber is not guilty of a crime.
The law recognizes that people cannot be found guilty if, due to a mental disease or defect, they do not have the mental
capacity to appreciate the criminality of their conduct. So, instead of being treated as a criminal and hauled off to prison,
they are treated as patients in a secured psychiatric hospital.
The goal is treatment, rather than punishment. A judge may mandate inpatient treatment at a state mental center for a period
no longer than the maximum sentence allowed had there been a conviction. In Webber's case, that's 100 years.
She is one of 384 patients currently confined in Illinois after being found not guilty by reason of insanity, or NGRI, for
various crimes, according to recent state data. Another 371 people found unfit to stand trial also are receiving inpatient
According to the most current discharge statistics available, compiled by the Tribune four years ago, more than one-third of
the 173 NGRI patients involved in a murder case since 1995 had been discharged. Their average psychiatric confinement
was about nine years and two months, the Tribune found.
The Illinois Department of Human Services operates the psychiatric facilities and is responsible for monitoring released
NGRI patients. State officials caution it is a gradual process that begins with small steps, and only a judge may allow release,
often relying on recommendations of the patient's treatment team and independent expert evaluations.
Early last year, a Cook County judge allowed a former Palatine man who decapitated his mother 13 years earlier to live in a
supervised, long-term care facility in Waukegan. Karl Sneider, found not guilty by reason of insanity after a history of mental
illness, had been allowed supervised trips outside a state maximum-security facility for several years without incident.
Three months later, in May 2016, Tonya Vasilev was granted conditional release from a state psychiatric hospital in Elgin
after about a decade of confinement as an NGRI patient for the 2005 stabbing deaths of her son and daughter in their
Hoffman Estates home, court records showed.
Although there are no recent studies of state or national recidivism rates, experts agree, repeat offenses are much lower than
for offenders released from prison.
After John Hinckley succeeded with an insanity defense for the 1981 attempted assassination of President Ronald Reagan,
public outcry prompted states such as Illinois to raise the legal standard of proof, shifting the burden onto defendants.
Illinois also has a guilty but mentally ill statute. State corrections officials said there are 236 inmates in prison under that
designation. Ninety-two of them committed murder.
The insanity defense, raised in about 1 percent of felonies nationwide, is successful 15 to 25 percent of the time, according
to research by Dr. Phillip Resnick, a forensic psychiatrist and professor at Case Western Reserve University School of
Medicine in Cleveland.
Many high-profile defendants have tried to use the defense but failed, including Jack Ruby in Lee Harvey Oswald's fatal
shooting, as well as infamous serial killers David Berkowitz, John Wayne Gacy and Jeffrey Dahmer.
"I think the concern many jurors have is that if they find somebody not guilty by reason of insanity they'll go free," said
Valerie Hans, a Cornell University Law School professor who has studied juror behavior in insanity cases. "People think of it
as a worrisome opportunity for someone who is dangerous to our community to be released. The statistics on that are not as
complete or as good as we would like."
'I lost everything'
Webber said she is serving a life sentence of loss, pain and regret. The belief that NGRI patients escaped responsibility is
unfair, she said.
"I lost everything," she said. "I lost Maggie. I have to live with what I did to her, and I destroyed my other two daughters'
lives. I was a bomb in the middle of three beautiful girls that loved each other."
Her oldest daughter, now 24 and a mother herself, discovered the 2010 crime scene in the bathroom of a relative's
A one-minute 911 call captured her terror.
"There's blood all over the bathroom," the sobbing teen told a police dispatcher, according to a recording of the tape obtained
by the Tribune. "I think my sister is dead. Hurry up, please!"
Her mother, also in the bathroom with self-inflicted cuts on her wrists and throat, hushed her.
"Be quiet," police quoted Marci Webber telling her. "Your sister's sleeping."
Maggie, nearly decapitated, was in the bathtub. Officers reported finding words such as "Divine Mercy = Satan" written in
blood on the walls.
To this day, Webber said she is thankful not to have a visual image of the moment she took her daughter's life. She
described putting Benadryl in Maggie's sippy cup so she'd remain asleep. Webber said she closed her eyes during the killing.
"In all my thoughts, in my crazy world of Satanists coming after us, lurking behind the bushes, in their cars ready to snatch
us, the hallucinations, not once did I have a thought I was hurting anyone," she said. "That morning it was like I was in a
driven frenzy with the most abject fear. And it was like a split second, in the blink of an eye, and it was over with."
She continued, "I believed I was on a different plane and that we're just temporary bodies, like paper, like a jar of clay ... I
had a tape recorder going to record angels taking us to heaven for posterity so that people could have evidence that there is a
But Webber insists she is better now. In recent written reviews, a team of medical and mental health experts treating her at
Chicago Read said she shows no signs of aggressive or "self-hurting behavior" and has long refused psychiatric drugs while
still free of such hallucinations or delusions.
They note some progress in her cooperation with staff to follow program schedules and rules. In fact, a June 30 record
noted, Webber "is ready for discharge when legal procedure and legal clearance completed."
It's unclear if that means the medical professionals will recommend to the judge that Webber begin the process of
transitioning back into the community. But Webber said she wants to testify at the upcoming court hearing to convince the
judge she has the coping skills to finally live a normal life.