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OC judge to decide whether to release mentally ill killer to outpatient facility

Orange County Register - 9/18/2023

On a December morning in 1994, Minnesota drifter Leonard Patton fatally bludgeoned a Huntington Harbour woman more than 20 times in the head and body after their cars collided on a beachside road.

But Patton never went to prison for killing Jessica Uniack, a 47-year-old mother of two. Instead, he was found not guilty by reason of insanity and sent to a state mental hospital.

Now Orange County Superior Court Judge Erin Rowe must determine whether Patton should be released with conditions to an outpatient facility. A hearing is scheduled for Thursday, Sept. 21, with Patton represented by the public defender’s office.

Patton originally was scheduled to be released to Leisure Towers Guest Home in Orange, but his bed there was revoked, according to Uniack’s son, Alex.

Patton was sent to Leisure Towers once before, in 2006, but was soon returned to a locked hospital after repeatedly violating the terms of his release. Investigators followed Patton to an auto parts store and watched him purchase a tool that could be used as a knife. A search of Patton’s room at the guest home also found he had stockpiled other tools with knife blades and sharp objects, according to court documents.

Investigators also documented more violations by Patton, according to a brief filed by Deputy District Attorney Kimberly Wah. She wrote that he still cannot be trusted.

“The defendant has failed to meet his burden to show that he would comply with outpatient release this time, when nothing … appears to have changed,” Wah wrote.

Alex Uniack, 43, said it more simply: “It seems like a pretty big gamble to take with everybody else’s safety.”

Alex Uniack lives within 5 miles of the 40-bed outpatient facility where Patton was previously released. “It scares me. It’s right in the heart of my community,” he said. “It seems beyond reckless.”

Uniack’s brother, Bill, worries that Patton has a tendency to repeat his misdeeds.

“The pros don’t outweigh the cons,” said Bill Uniack, 47. “Without proper supervision, he could be dangerous again.”

Orange County District Attorney Todd Spitzer said Monday that Patton indeed remains extremely dangerous.

“We are adamantly opposed to his release, period, to any outpatient facility,” Spitzer said. “We’re not only fighting the public defender’s office, but the psychiatrists for the (conditional release program).”

Dr. Stacey Berardino, who works with the Orange County Health Care Agency and the conditional release program, would not respond to questions regarding Patton, citing patient confidentiality.

Patton was so dangerous and delusional at the time of his arrest that even his own family was relieved when he was captured. They had tried unsuccessfully for months before the killing to have Patton committed to a mental health facility.

On Dec. 8, 1994, voices in Patton’s head persuaded him to take a plane from his home in Minnesota to Los Angeles, according to the prosecution’s opposition brief.

Patton rented a car and drove to Orange County, where he was involved in a fender bender with Jessica Uniack along Pacific Coast Highway in Seal Beach.

Patton attacked Uniack, killing her immediately, after she got out of her car to exchange information. Police said Patton abandoned his rental car, stuffed Uniack’s body onto the passenger floor of her vehicle and drove it to a nearby hospital emergency room. He abandoned the vehicle, stole a truck and ultimately was found by police wandering around Newport Beach, according to published reports.

Before coming to Orange County, Patton had flown to Canada, where he attempted several purse snatchings, and was sent to a psychiatric hospital, where he failed to take his medication, Wah wrote.

Patton’s life has been a revolving door of mental hospitals. He is now housed at the Sylmar Health and Rehabilitation Center.

After his failed release to Leisure Towers in 2006, prosecutors don’t believe he deserves another chance. They are unsure whether he would take his medication or whether the oversight would be adequate. The last time, Patton would leave the facility unescorted during the day and return at night, said the court document.

The brief said there are no plans under the state’s Conditional Release Program for further or more stringent supervision this time.

“The defendant is a flight risk and there is nothing short of keeping the defendant in a locked psychiatric facility that will prevent the defendant from fleeing,” Wah wrote.

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