GOSHEN - A Schenectady man was arraigned on murder charges Thursday in Orange County Court in the strangulation death of a fellow patient at the Mid-Hudson Forensic Psychiatric Center in New Hampton.
An Orange County grand jury has indicted Samara Coleman, 39, on felony counts of second-degree murder, first-degree manslaughter and first-degree strangulation in the April death of Jhonny Batista. Coleman, Batista and two other men were roommates at the secure psychiatric hospital, prosecutors said.
Coleman’s lawyer, Michael Davis of the Legal Aid Society of Orange County, entered a not-guilty plea for his client.
Senior Assistant District Attorney Kelle Grimmer told Judge Craig Brown that Coleman was committed to Mid-Hudson in April 2017 based on an Albany County criminal case in which he was found not guilty by reason of mental disease or defect.
Mid-Hudson is one of a handful of secure hospitals that handles people committed by courts to psychiatric care. The forensic center, operated by the state Office of Mental Health, houses and treats patients committed because they’ve been found unfit to proceed to trial as well as patients found not responsible for their crimes due to severe mental illness.
Coleman had a youthful offender finding in a 1998 felony case, Grimmer told the judge, and the rest of his record is limited to misdemeanor convictions: in 2003, for criminal contempt and aggravated harassment, and a 2000 third-degree assault. She asked Brown to order Coleman held at Orange County Jail without bail, as he has been since his arrest.
Davis noted that since Coleman was previously committed to the psychiatric center, any bail amount “would be academic,” but he asked Brown to set bail “reasonable under the circumstances.”
Brown set bail at $250,000 cash or $500,000 bond.
Davis asked the judge to order a competency exam based on the facts of the case and Coleman’s circumstances. Grimmer joined in his request, and Brown ordered the exam.
Coleman will return to Orange County Court on July 26 for a conference.
Batista’s death isn’t the first at the forensic psychiatric center. In 1998, a patient named Anthony Pizzo was strangled by his roommate, Archie Bristol. Bristol ultimately pleaded guilty to murder and was sentenced to 15 years to life in prison. Bristol remains in state prison.