TAWAS CITY – Jerry Michael McCauley, 58, pleaded “guilty but mentally ill” for the offense of homicide-murder in the 2nd degree during a Monday hearing in Iosco County’s 23rd Circuit Court.
In the hearing streamed live via YouTube, Iosco County Circuit Court Judge David Riffel said he found the defense plea to be accurate, and accepted the plea.
McCauley admitted he was responsible for the murder of his wife, Gina Marie McCauley – who was 55 at the time – on Sept. 8, 2018.
Authorities said McCauley stabbed Gina with a knife, approximately 20 times, at the home they shared in Grant Township, resulting in her death.
On Monday, Riffel heard from Jennifer Izworski, who has been appointed by the court to represent McCauley in this case; Iosco County Assistant Prosecutor James Bacarella; and McCauley.
Izworski noted a May 27 modification to the plea agreement, which also included a sentence agreement. “We would be modifying that, under number three, to indicate that the prosecutor will recommend a sentence within the guideline range.”
Riffel pointed out that this is no promise by the court and he is not bound by it, since it is only a recommended sentence.
He explained that, in addition to establishing a factual basis for the plea, the court must examine the psychiatric reports prepared and hold a hearing that establishes support for finding that the defendant was mentally ill at the time of the offense to which the plea is entered. The reports must be made a part of the record, as well.
Bacarella, Izworski and McCauley all consented to allowing the court to review the March 5 report regarding criminal responsibility, which was presented by the defendant.
Riffel asked if Bacarella believes the report establishes that the defendant has proven by a preponderance of evidence that he was mentally ill at the time of the offense to which the plea is being entered. Both Bacarella and Izworski agreed.
Riffel advised that the court examined the report from the Department of Health and Human Service’s Center for Forensic Psychiatry, authored by a doctor who is also a licensed psychologist and consulting forensic examiner.
He said the report does indicate that McCauley stabbed his wife, who died as a result of those injuries.
Riffel said the report also indicates that, in the examiner’s opinion, the defendant met the criteria for a statutory mental illness at the time requesting. It is also the examiner’s opinion that, as a result of the mental illness, the defendant lacked a substantial capacity to perform his conduct to the requirements of the law. “Consequently, it was the examiner’s opinion that the defendant met the statutory criteria for a defense of legal insanity, with respect to the charge of open murder.”
Multiple sources described the defendant as experiencing a cluster of symptoms characterized by a profound, delusional belief related to his wife and his son having a sexual relationship, Riffel continued.
Among the examples listed were paranoia, hallucinations, unstable mood, hyperactivity, compulsivity, decreased sleep, severe anxiety, panic attacks, rambling speech and impaired cognitive functioning within the domains of attention, concentration and reasoning.
It is further stated that McCauley was psychiatrically hospitalized twice, in July and August of 2018. Additionally, 12 days before the alleged offense, he presented an increased rate of speech, flight of ideas, paranoid delusions, auditory and visual hallucinations and an anxious mood.
“There was no data to suggest the defendant was intoxicated from alcohol or drugs at the time in question,” Riffel went on.
He said the court adopts the findings of the report, and the opinions of the examiner of that report in support of the finding.
Both Bacarella and Izworski said they believe the court’s findings, based on the report, are sufficient to prove that McCauley was guilty but mentally ill at the time.
Riffel said he believes the parties have met the statutory criteria to begin the process of entering a plea, pursuant to a plea agreement of guilty but mentally ill.
He stated that the homicide-murder in the 2nd degree charge is a felony, punishable by life or any term of years.
Riffel asked whether McCauley understood that, if for any reason Riffel wanted to go outside of the sentencing guideline range, McCauley would not have an automatic right to withdraw his plea. McCauley answered yes, with Izworski adding that a request would need to be made of the court to do so.
“The other thing that is contained in this written plea agreement is a guideline range of 180 months to 300 months. I’ve indicated previously that I don’t know whether that is correct or not,” said Riffel. “And I’m not making a statement as to whether it is or not. I’m just indicating it is in this agreement; it’s not binding upon the court in any way. The attorneys have indicated that that’s what they believe that guideline range is.”
Riffel said there are six possible pleas McCauley may enter, those being guilty, not guilty, to stand mute, a plea of no contest, a plea of guilty by reason of insanity or a plea of guilty but mentally ill.
The judge noted that, if the defendant pleads guilty or no contest and the plea is accepted by the court, McCauley will not have a trial of any kind and he would be giving up several rights which he would have with a trial. This includes the right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty, the right to have the court order any witnesses that he has for his defense appear at the trial and the right to testify himself.
“If you plead guilty or no contest, and that plea is accepted, then there will be no right to appeal a conviction and sentence to a higher court,” Riffel added.
“And I’m assuming, counsel, this also would apply to a plea of guilty but mentally ill. Is that your understanding, Mr. Bacarella?” he asked, which Bacarella confirmed.
When asked how he wanted to plea to the charge, McCauley stated guilty but mentally ill.
To establish a factual basis for count two, Izworski posed a series of questions to McCauley, such as whether he used a knife to stab Gina on Sept. 8, 2018.
“Unfortunately, yes, I did,” answered McCauley, who also admitted to stabbing his wife multiple times in the chest area.
When asked if at any point did he call for an ambulance or take Gina to the hospital, McCauley replied that he did not.
Izworski asked if McCauley understood that by stabbing his wife many times in the chest, that it could result in her death, to which he answered yes.
“And yet, you continued to stab her, is that correct?” Izworski questioned.
“Yes, I did,” McCauley said.
Bacarella then asked that, by stabbing Gina, did McCauley in fact cause her death, and the defendant again answered yes.
“This matter is going to be referred to the Michigan Department of Corrections, for them to prepare a sentencing report and recommendation, and we will come back for a sentencing,” Riffel concluded.
This is set to take place on Monday, July 6, at 9 a.m.
According to Bacarella, McCauley’s original defense in the case was “not guilty by reason of insanity.” But, he was found competent to stand trial after a psychiatric evaluation.
Before McCauley’s Monday plea, the most recent development in the case was that 81st District Court Judge Christopher Martin signed an “order for evaluation relative to criminal responsibility” relative to McCauley’s ability to be criminally responsible for his wife’s murder. Martin filed the order Nov. 4, 2019.
According to a “finding and order on competency” document filed with the court the same day by the Michigan Department of Health and Human Service’s Center for Forensic Psychiatry in Saline – whose psychiatrists evaluated McCauley – he was found competent to stand trial and the case “shall continue to the next stage of the criminal process.”
Further, the document stated, “The defendant, in order to maintain competency to stand trial, shall be administrated appropriate medication pending and during trial.”
“Basically he had a defense of not guilty by reason of insanity and considering the information we received regarding his defense we decided to offer a second degree homicide charge and he accepted that offer,” Bacarella said.
According to Bacarella, the agreement was in place before much of the state’s legal system shut down in the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. He said that, in recent weeks, court has been taking place more often and the prosecutor’s office has been able to finalize the plea agreement, resulting in Monday’s hearing.