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Mom: Mental care let down her killer son

Citizen Staff Writer



The mother of Christopher Lambeth, who killed his grandparents – her parents – in 2005, said she never filed a grievance against COPE or his psychiatrist while they provided medical care to her son for about two years before the killings.

She is suing them in Pima County Superior Court, claiming wrongful death and malpractice. The case, in Judge Carmine Cornelio’s court, began last week.

Under cross-examination Tuesday by defense attorneys, Lisa Lambeth said she waited for months for a residential placement from COPE for her son while he washed his hands 10 times a day, talked to himself, paced back and forth incessantly and used “special hand signals.”

She blames his psychiatrist, Dr. Virgil Hancock III, a COPE employee, and the behavioral health provider for her parents’ April 10, 2005, killings at the hands of her son.

Christopher Lambeth, now 24, was taking lithium and other drugs to control symptoms of his mental illness, including psychosis.

Lisa Lambeth and her sister Karen McCollum filed the lawsuit, claiming negligence was a cause of the violence that ended the lives of Lisa’s parents, Carl and Patricia Gremmler.

Carl was 76 and Patricia 72 when they were stabbed by Lambeth, who is serving two concurrent life terms in the Arizona State Hospital.

During testimony in the civil suit Tuesday, Lisa Lambeth said her son told her he killed his grandparents because “he thought they were trying to tell him what to do. He really can’t articulate that very well.”

She said she feels no responsibility for her parents’ deaths.

Attorneys for COPE and the nonprofit Community Partnership for Southern Arizona, which oversees COPE and other behavioral health providers in southern Arizona, said Tuesday there were several things she could have done to help her son and protect her parents.

They asserted she is partly responsible for what happened.

She knew, she admitted, that her son would sometimes not take his medications and that she had called police because of Christopher’s alleged menacing and punching holes in the wall.

Before Lambeth left for Mesa for several days to be with her husband, she did not make sure her son’s blood level for lithium was tested to see if he was properly medicated, even though she knew it was necessary, she said during questioning.

She admitted under cross examination that she did not advise her parents before they took Christopher Lambeth into their home for the weekend that the blood test needed to be done to make sure his medication was at a therapeutic level.

“She wasn’t sufficiently concerned,” said CPSA attorney Marshall Humphrey.

Lambeth said she attended her son’s monthly appointments with his psychiatrist and asked each time for her son to be placed in a residential facility where he could get full-time care.

She never filed a petition with the court to have her son committed to a hospital for psychiatric observation after she thought he was a danger to himself or others, she conceded. She also said she did not bring him to an emergency room for an evaluation when he seemed to be agitated and uncooperative. But she did call 911 to have authorities take him to a hospital after one incident.

In the months before the killings, Christopher Lambeth was held for about a day in a psychiatric facility and then was released to his family, according to court records.

Defense attorneys accused her of seeking revenge with the lawsuit, quoting her from her therapist’s records: “I will bring them down.”

Lambeth responded, “It’s not revenge. I have a desire for justice. I feel they should be held accountable.”

She said she left her son with her parents during the week while she worked full time in human resources and kept him at her home on weekends.

Defense attorneys said that as a human resources specialist, she should have known that she had other avenues besides waiting for COPE to find her son a residential placement.

She could have gone over the psychiatrist’s head and complained to his supervisors but she did not, or look for a placement herself.

“I trusted him,” she said of the psychiatrist.

“I’ve lost my mom and dad and son. This has been ripped from me by two organizations who didn’t care about us,” she said. “I feel they are responsible for the death of my mom and dad.”

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