Defendant in Newton’s triple homicide openly discusses his mental illness diagnosis – The Boston Globe

But Christopher L. Ferguson Jr., 41, the man accused of carrying out the fatal assault, had been clear on this: He had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder nearly two decades earlier and life had been a storm ever since.

Years of his own writings, court records, and conversations with friends and neighbors detail a man whose struggles and alleged crimes underscore weaknesses in the state’s mental health care system, which has buckled under growing demand sparked by the coronavirus pandemic and it needs an overhaul that gives families more power to help their relatives, some advocates say.

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The victims, Gilda D’Amore, 73, her husband Bruno, 74, and her mother Lucia Arpino, 97, appeared to be the victims of a random attack, the Middlesex district attorney’s office said. The D’amores had celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary the day before. Their loved ones became concerned Sunday morning when they failed to show up for church to renew their vows.

Ferguson’s fate now rests with the criminal justice system, which will likely weigh his alleged crimes against his mental state as prosecutors say he killed the D’Amores and Arpinos inside their home.

Ferguson’s defense attorney has previously said he plans to pursue some psychological issues that could impact the case and has received court permission to spend $5,000 on a psychological evaluation of his client. Ferguson faces first-degree murder charges in the slaying of Gilda D’Amore and faces other charges in the attacks on her husband and her mother. He pleaded not guilty.

A few days after the arraignment, a judge granted a transfer request from Fer

A selfie of Christopher L. Ferguson Jr. posted on May 31, 2021.

Guson to Bridgewater State Hospital, where officials will assess his competency to stand trial and assess his criminal liability. In a statement, Ferguson’s attorney Dmitry Lev expressed our deepest condolences to the families of the victims, but declined to talk about his client.

It is important, he said, that the case proceed before the tribunal rather than the court of public opinion. Several of Ferguson’s relatives declined to speak to the Globe or did not respond to requests for comment.

But police interviews paint some details about Ferguson’s mental state. His ex-girlfriend told investigators that Ferguson was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and that he had been having a manic episode since February, according to an affidavit filed in court. The sister he lives with described his recent behavior as erratic.

One of Ferguson’s neighbors, Ilana Margalit, she had her say her sister told her he had been hospitalized for mental health issues in early June, but had returned home by 20 June, even though his family wanted him to stay in the hospital longer.

The Middlesex District Attorney’s Office declined to comment.

When a loved one with a mental illness faces criminal prosecution, their family members usually tell similar stories about the difficulties getting consistent, quality care for their family member, said Robert Kinscherff, professor of clinical psychology at the William James College Newton.

The course of the disease can be waxing and waning. They get better. They get worse. I am in treatment. They come off treatment, said Kinscherff, who is also executive director of the Center for Law, Brain & Behavior at Massachusetts General Hospital.

Ferguson appears to have used the online publishing platform Medium to write about a diagnosis of bipolar disorder in her early 20s, admissions for psychiatric treatment while living in California, and suicidal thoughts. He also wrote frequently about his struggles on his now-defunct website, BlackandBipolar.net.

The National Institute of Mental Health defines bipolar disorder as a mental illness that causes unusual changes in a person’s mood, energy, activity levels, and concentration that can make it difficult to carry out daily activities.

Ferguson grew up in Newton and showed promise during his youth. In 2004, he received a bachelor’s degree in American Studies and Ethnicity with a minor in Spanish from the University of Southern California. A year earlier, he was inducted into the school chapter of Phi Beta Kappa, a prestigious academic honor society, the documents show.

In 2019, he announced on Facebook that he had published an e-book: Singular and Focused: Reflections on Goal Orientation, Advancement, and Achievement.

The road to greatness is a never-ending process of paying dues, he wrote in the motivational text.

Posts about bipolar disorder were a recurring theme. In 2014, she shared a story about actor Lee Thompson Young, known for The Famous Jett Jackson TV show, who was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and committed suicide. Ferguson wrote that they were students at USC at the same time.

Upon learning that we shared the same diagnosis, he hit home as they say, Ferguson wrote.

He also compared his mental health to Ye, the musician formerly known as Kanye West, who likened his bipolar diagnosis to a sprained brain.

When I look back on the serious effort I put in in college, I was essentially the equivalent of a running back going for a 1,000-yard season with torn knee ligaments, Ferguson wrote in July 2020.

He had nearly 40 blog posts on his website; the archived writings viewed by the Globe mostly range from April 2020 to August 2021.

Ferguson wrote about his manic episodes: He had five from 2005 to 2014. The attacks occurred at about 18 to 24-month intervals and he was hospitalized 11 times, he wrote.

The episodes messed up everything from finances, academic/professional endeavors, housing and relationships, she wrote. Eight years into this nearly decade of utter unpleasantness, I no longer fear relapse.

Though he underwent treatment and was prescribed medication, Ferguson wrote that he self-medicated with alcohol, smoking, and marijuana using a deputy triumvirate whom I have, concurrently, called, the trifecta.

Adam Caramanica, who grew up in Newton and had recently communicated with Ferguson, said Ferguson had she has expressed frustration with the management of her bipolar disorder.

She talked about how she had this problem, and she had tried to get help and that didn’t work, said Caramanica, who lives in San Diego.

Kinscherff, the professor of clinical psychology, said it’s important not to stigmatize people with mental illness. While there are examples of people with mental illnesses committing serious crimes driven by their illness, he said, most won’t harm anyone, and if they do, they’re more likely to harm themselves.

Keith Halpern, a lawyer who has defended people with mental illness in murder cases, said most of those the defendants have relatives who have spent years trying to help.

Families, he said, describe the mental health care system as a revolving door that discharges patients before they are ready because their health insurance coverage has expired. They also report that there is no effective method to ensure people are taking prescribed psychiatric medications, Halpern said.

Summarizing their stories, he said: The system is a complete mess.

Lisa Dailey, executive director of the Treatment Advocacy Center, a non-profit organization in Arlington, Virginia, said Massachusetts is among three states without an outpatient civil commitment law that would give courts the authority to keep patients with mental illness being treated, including taking psychiatric medications.

Critics, including the Committee for Public Counsel Services, say such an approach is coercive and has proven ineffective.

Successful treatment must involve people’s willingness to participate, said Laura Sanford, a CPCS attorney.

Dailey disagrees, saying it ensures the system doesn’t abandon patients who are having trouble adhering to treatment and gives them an opportunity to recover.

Psychiatric treatment in a traditional clinical setting can be challenging and some patients face discrimination, said Thomas Brown, a trauma survivor diagnosed with PTSD and state-certified as a peer specialist. to help others recover.

We often think that once we get people into a psychiatric shelter, they’re fine, they’re safe, they get what they need, he said. That’s usually not what happens.

On the day of the murders, detectives collected evidence they said linked Ferguson to the triple homicide: a backpack with Ferguson’s ID, a fingerprint, surveillance video. After officers arrived at his home, they called an ambulance to take him to a Boston hospital, where he was involuntarily hospitalized for 72 hours for psychiatric care.

The following day, police charged Ferguson with murder.


Laura Crimaldi can be contacted at [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter @lauracrimaldi. Sean Cotter can be reached at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @cotterreporter. John Hilliard can be reached at [email protected].


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