Lawsuit contends teen killer did not get proper treatment

CAREY JOHNSON, Times Staff Writer

LOUISBURG -- The family of a woman decapitated by her psychotic son has filed a lawsuit against the doctor who discharged the teenager less than a week before the murder.

This past October, Oliver Machada was found not guilty of killing Yesenia Funez by reason of insanity and Superior Court Judge Henry Hight committed him to a state mental health facility -- where he will more than likely spend the rest of his life.

The court's decision was the culmination of a criminal case that began the afternoon of March 6, 2017, when Franklin County sheriff's deputies responded to the family's Morgan Drive home, finding Machada with a butcher knife in one hand and his mother's head in the other.

Before Hight rendered his ruling, forensic psychiatrist Dr. George Corvin testified that Machada was suffering from a psychotic episode that had him hallucinating and hearing voices that led him to believe he was doing God's will when he stabbed Funez multiple times before cutting off her head.

In a medical malpractice lawsuit filed in Durham County Civil Superior Court on Feb. 28, attorneys representing Funez's brother-in-law, Cristian Ferrera, allege that the discharging physician, Dr. Brian Robbins, with reckless disregard, failed to treat Machada and, instead, released him from the hospital while he was still severely mentally ill.

"Yesenia and her family seek to be made whole and to make sure that these violations and reckless behavior never causes another family this type of horrific and unimaginable harm," stated the lawsuit, filed by Knott & Boyle attorneys, Ben Van Steinburgh and W. Ellis Boyle.

According to the lawsuit, Machada was evaluated and treated for mental health issues two times in the months leading up to his mother's murder.

First, Yesenia Funez took Machada to the UNC emergency department in September 2016 after he had not slept for three days.

Doctors there reported that Machada was experiencing a psychotic break after suffering deteriorating mental health for about two years and that his condition was worsening over the past few months.

Machada was then committed to the Psychotic Disorders Unit at UNC Hospital in Chapel Hill.

During his time there, according to the lawsuit, Machada noted hearing voices telling him to hurt someone and seeing things. Hospital staff noted inappropriate behavior, such as flashing people.

Prescribed medications, according to the lawsuit, had no apparent impact.

Machada was released on Oct. 14, but the lawsuit noted that he still had ongoing symptoms and exhibited inappropriate and dangerous behavior.

Three months later, on Jan. 24, 2017, Machada's parents took him to the UNC WakeBrook Crisis and Assessment Center because they were concerned about his deteriorating mental health, according to the lawsuit.

WakeBrook staff, according to the lawsuit, subsequently involuntarily committed Machada for treatment.

According to the lawsuit, medical staff found Machada to be "clearly psychotic" and had not been taking his medications.

On Feb. 22, a week before his discharge, a nurse wrote that Machada stated: "I do not think that I am ready to leave; I still feel depressed; I just feel lazy to do anything; I do not think the medications are working."

The next day, according to the lawsuit, Machada told Dr. Robbins the same thing.

During his stay, Machada's medications were upped and modified, but had no apparent impact on his condition, according to the lawsuit.

A day before his discharge, medical staff noted that Machada continued to have psychotic issues.

But, in his discharge notes, Robbins, according to the lawsuit, wrote:

• That a mitigating factor for Machada was his "motivation for treatment." The lawsuit alleges that all of the evidence directly contradicted that and that a therapist's assessment two days prior to discharge was that Machada 'was not interested in changing his behavior, he was responding to internal stimuli and that his mood was irritable and withdrawn and that he had no effective coping strategies and was not motivated to learn any coping strategies';

• Robbins also wrote in discharge summary that Machada and his family both said over the weekend that he was safe to return home. That never occurred, the lawsuit alleges;

• Robbins also wrote that Machada denied having any audiovisiual hallucinations. The records don't indicate that, the lawsuit alleges:
Upon Machada's discharge, UNC WakeBrook, according to the lawsuit, made him an appointment with Visions Behavioral Health Services in Louisburg for March 7, but he never made it.

Machada killed his mother the day before.

The lawsuit alleges that Robbins' actions resulted in a wrongful death and demonstrated gross negligence.

The lawsuit is seeking compensatory, statutory and non-economic damages in excess of $25,000 -- the minimum amount to make it a superior court case matter.

Immediate attempts to contact Steinburgh and Boyle were not immediately successful.

Attempts to reach Robbins were not successful.