When Merced County deputies arrived at a trailer on the property of a Dos Palos residence on Oct. 11, 2017, they reported finding 37-year-old Melissa Bal covered in blood near her dead mother.
Bal told police she “sacrificed” her mother, 55-year-old Lydia Marie Bal, as part of a “satanic practice” by stabbing her at least 20 times with an 8-inch kitchen knife, according to investigation reports. Bal also self-reported her history of mental illness, drugs and alcohol to authorities.
But was Bal sane and sober when investigators believe she killed her mother?
The Dos Palos woman has pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity. And the questions about her mental state have delayed her trial for more than a year.
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Since Bal was ordered to stand trial on charges of murder last March, attorneys in the case have been trying to determine her mental competency through a series of medical reports.
“Cases involving a (not guilty by insanity defense) usually take longer than others,” said lead prosecutor Travis Colby, a Merced County deputy district attorney.
Two court-appointed doctors have submitted reports to the court after evaluating Bal, said Stephanie Jamieson, the Merced County deputy public defender appointed to represent her. Those medical reports are not open to the public, and neither Jamieson nor Colby would comment on the findings in the reports.
But the prosecution is waiting for results of a third medical report requested by the Merced County District Attorney’s Office, Colby said after Bal’s pre-trial hearing Thursday.
Visiting Judge Josh M. Fredricks ordered the case continued to Jan. 24. Prosecutors hope to have the results of the medical report by then, Colby said.
If the case heads to trial, the jury would have to make two verdicts, attorneys said.
The first conclusion would be whether Bal killed her mother. After that determination, the jury would determine whether Bal was sane during the alleged slaying.
If the jury decides she was mentally competent, she could face between 25 years to life in prison, according to attorneys. If found not guilty by reason of insanity, Bal could face life in a state hospital, with eligibility for release once she has been restored to sanity.