Carrying an oxygen tank and handcuffed, Kenneth Heath, 61, sat in court and pled no contest to manslaughter. He will spend six to 15 years in prison with credit for the three years he has already served.
"I accept the terms of the plea agreement and don't want to risk 20 years to life," Heath said.
Heath had been facing the possibility of spending the rest of his life behind bars after he was charged with murder three years ago for gunning down his 80-year-old mother Christina as she made her daily visit to his apartment in Canaan.
Heath told investigators he thought his mother was the Canaan police chief.
"He thought people were after him," Essex County State's Attorney Vince Illuzzi said.
At the time of the shooting Heath was taking a prescribed anti-smoking cigarettes drug. It turns out the medication should never have been given to Heath due to his family's mental health history. His father and son had committed suicide. And lawyers say it was because of Heath's own mental and physical problems that his mother took care of him on a daily basis. She had brought him to the hospital two days prior to the shooting due to complications from the medicine.
"Very well known side effects of psychotic symptoms," defense lawyer David Sleigh said. "Both psychiatrists acknowledge there was a severe mental disturbance with these prescription drugs."
Heath was expected to use an insanity defense at his trial. And even though his attorney felt there was enough evidence to support the insanity claim it was too risky.
"We have to bear the burden of proof in a defense that most jurors have hostility to, there's a lot of risk to go forward with trial," Sleigh said.
"There was the risk the jury would have found him not guilty by reason of insanity and allowed him to walk out of the courtroom following trial. That was a risk I didn't want to take," Illuzzi said.
The judge ordered a pre-sentence investigation to be conducted by the department of corrections. That will take a few weeks. A formal sentencing hearing is expected to be scheduled later this summer.
According to Illuzzi no criminal charges or civil suits were brought against the doctor who wrongly prescribed the medication to Heath.
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