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Leary's Daughter Dies After Hanging : Death: She was in custody after twice being judged mentally unfit to stand trial on charges of shooting her boyfriend last year.

September 07, 1990|HECTOR TOBAR | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The 42-year-old daughter of LSD guru Timothy Leary died two days after she apparently used a shoelace to hang herself from the bars of her jail cell in Los Angeles, authorities said Thursday.

Sheriff's deputies discovered Susan F. Martino, also known as Susan Leary, during a routine check of her cell Monday morning at Sybil Brand Institute, a Los Angeles Sheriff's Department spokeswoman said. The checks are made every 20 minutes.

Martino was in custody after twice being judged mentally unfit to stand trial on charges of shooting her sleeping boyfriend last year. She was taken to Santa Marta Hospital in East Los Angeles, where she was placed on a life-support system, the spokeswoman said. She died at 6 p.m. Wednesday of her injuries.

Bob Dambacher, a spokesman for the Los Angeles County coroner's office, said Martino's death was classified as a possible suicide hanging, pending an autopsy later this week.

Leary had regularly visited his daughter at the jail facility, said Eric Gardner, Leary's manager. "(Leary) and his family are deeply saddened and will be announcing a memorial service sometime next week," Gardner said.

Gardner said Leary, who lives in Beverly Hills, did not have any complaints about the care his daughter was receiving at the jail and at Patton State Hospital, where she had also been held.

Martino was arrested Jan. 5, 1989, in the shooting of her live-in boyfriend, Joel Ruben Chavira, in their Glendale apartment. Police said Martino shot Chavira as he slept on a couch, lodging a bullet at the base of his skull.

Chavira told police that he awoke to a loud explosion in the back of his head. He felt blood and then went into the kitchen and confronted Martino, who was holding a gun.

Martino was ordered to stand trial but Pasadena Superior Court Judge Terry Smerling twice ruled that she was incompetent to stand trial, most recently Aug. 28.

Chris Apospal, Martino's public defender, said that Martino's apparent mental illness made it difficult for him to help her.

"At times she'd be non-communicative, very quiet and non-responsive," Apospal said. "Sometimes she would be clear and coherent. And other times she would say things that didn't quite fit and she would sort of go off on tangents."

Apospal said Martino's condition appeared to be deteriorating in recent months.

Two weeks before her death, Martino's worsening mental condition caused her to be moved from the jail dormitory where she was housed with other inmates, a Sheriff's Department spokesman said. Martino was placed in a one-person cell to isolate her from other inmates, Deputy Chris Wahla said.

Jail procedures require that potentially dangerous objects such as shoelaces be kept from inmates determined to be unstable, Wahla said. Investigators are attempting to determine how she came into possession of the shoelace, he said.

Leary earned a Ph.D. in psychology from UC Berkeley in the 1950s. While working as a lecturer at Harvard University he began experimenting with LSD, publishing his findings in scholarly journals. He later advocated its use publicly, coining the slogan: "Turn on, tune in, drop out."

Times staff writer Lori Grange contributed to this story.

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