By Jared Chausow
By Katie Toth
By Elizabeth Flock
By Albert Samaha
By Anna Merlan
By Jon Campbell
By Jon Campbell
By Albert Samaha
Even with a court order, Kendras Law, mental health experts say, is toothless in New York State. Nurses cannot compel a patient to take medication unless the patient is an immediate threat to himself or others. And the criteria are very narrow: In order to qualify, a patient must either have been hospitalized two additional times within the prior 36 months, or have threatened or attempted to cause physical harm in the prior 48 months.
Still, the vast majority of petitions are granted in New York courtsthe most recent data show that 93 percent of petitions are granted.
For some reason, Belluccis was not among them.
Prior to his hospitalization, Bellucci had been smashing car tires and punching walls, stockpiling firearms, and making threats like, Im going to burn the house down, his siblings say. Brian says that he and his mother provided all of this information to Brajkovic. But without the transcript to Belluccis Kendras Law hearingwhich is not accessible to the publicits unclear what the judge in his case was told about his behavior. His siblings only know that the court was not convinced that he should be subject to an AOT order, even though granting such orders is nearly automatic in this state.
The day Bellucci was discharged from the hospital, he came home to his parents house. The long-acting medication he had been given was in effect, and he was under orders, by Brajkovic, to visit an outpatient treatment center a few times a week. It was September 2009. Vanessa had just started law school. She remembers sitting on the back porch with her brother, and for the first time in years, the two held an ordinary conversation. Bellucci asked if she liked law school, and she told him that she did. He was mellow, medicated, but more mentally present than hed been for a very long time. That, she says, was the last normal conversation she would have with her brother.
Once the medicine wore off, Bellucci was angrier and more hostile than ever, Vanessa says. He blamed her, and his parents, for locking him up, and when she came over, he would lock himself in his room.
Then he began barricading himself in regularly, putting furniture in front of his door. He would only come out at night, when he was alone in the house with his parents. He developed a health-food obsession, and would sometimes take the car to Whole Foods to eat. He began smoking in the house, an affront to his father that he had never made before. Distrustful of tap water, he began importing bottled water from Israel.
He told his parents that he would kill them if they sent him back to the hospital. Arthur had thrown out his sons rifles during the hospital stay, taking them to a local precincts gun buyback program. Bellucci responded by obsessively ordering hunting knives. In the last months, Vanessa says, packages of knives were being delivered to the house constantly.
Without the Kendras Law petition, however, the family didnt have many options. If Bellucci did something violent, they could call the police and have him hospitalized again, and then try another court petition. Marian was hoping he would make a wrong move, possibly like the last time, so she could put him on the program, Ciervo says. But he was smart enough not to. He knew what not to do. He would push the button so far, and then he would stop.
But Brian points out that his parents were reluctant to call the police, even when it might have been appropriate. They didnt want the SWAT team to come in and have him kill himself right in the room there, he says. So they thought they would roll the dice.
And there was another reason, the siblings say: Their mother didnt like the state hospital that he would be taken to if they called authorities. She wanted him to go to an academic hospital, where they would be better equipped to deal with such a unique case, Vanessa says. Her mother believed that in a better hospital her son would receive superior care and might be less resistant to treatment. In the weeks before the murders, Marian had been discussing with Brian the prospect of getting her son into a treatment center at the prestigious New York Presbyterian Hospital, but their discussion always went around in circles. They both knew Bellucci would refuse to go.
Dawn Velligan says these kinds of impulses are common in families who have children with serious mental illness. There is very little a family in that kind of situation can do, she says. Part of the problem is that people walk around on eggshells. People dont want them to become violent and threatened, and so what happens is you have the mentally ill person running the whole house.
I think the situation was far more dangerous than the parents realized, she continues. If you are afraid in your own home, its time to do something about it. I tell families: If you are walking on eggshells, you have to stand up to them. Everyone is afraid to confront a person like this, but you have to do that in order to get them out and to get yourself safe. I would have been calling 911 every day.