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Male patient found dead at Eastern State Hospital

Female patient suspected in homicide

UPDATED: Tue., Nov. 20, 2012

A female patient at Eastern State Hospital is suspected of murder after a male patient was found dead early Tuesday.

Investigators with the Spokane County Sheriff’s Office have identified 30-year-old Amber I. Roberts as the suspect. She was booked into Spokane County Jail on charges of premeditated murder in the first degree.

According to previous reports by the Yakima Herald-Republic, Spokane County authorities arrested Roberts in 2003 for allegedly choking a 72-year-old Yakima woman, stealing the woman’s car and driving it to the Liberty Lake area, where she was apprehended.

Roberts was deemed too mentally ill to understand right from wrong, according to hospital staff, and was institutionalized at the hospital indefinitely after being found not guilty by reason of insanity.

The victim in Tuesday’s homicide has not been identified. The Spokane County Medical Examiner’s Office performed an autopsy Tuesday.

The victim was found dead on the floor in the hospital’s forensics unit, where patients are evaluated after being committed by a judge during a criminal case, said John Wiley, a spokesman for the state’s Department of Social and Health Services, which operates Eastern State Hospital. Patients in that ward were temporarily relocated while major crimes detectives served a search warrant.

Wiley calls the patient’s death a rare event, saying staff who have worked at the hospital for more than 30 years could not recall another homicide occurring there.

The union representing Eastern’s workers released a statement saying they were “deeply saddened by this morning’s tragedy” and have been “diligent in raising concerns about short-staffing” at the hospital. The workers are represented by Local 782 of the Washington Federation of State Employees.

“We have raised these issues with management for more than a year,” the statement said. “It’s not clear if this understaffing contributed to this morning’s tragedy. Regardless, it doesn’t bring back one of our family members, a patient in our care.”

Roberts was institutionalized in 2004 after a judge stated she was legally insane while attacking the Yakima woman with the intent to kill, according to court documents from Yakima County Superior Court.

Roberts’ brother was also involved in a fatal attack in recent years. Jason D. Roberts, 32, was charged and sentenced to more than seven years in prison after pleading guilty to second-degree manslaughter for the death of Damian Long following a beating inside the Yakima County Jail in 2007.

Long died at a local hospital of internal bleeding nearly two weeks later after being beaten by a group of inmates including Jason Roberts.

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