ELKHART, Ind. (AP) — A judge Wednesday ordered a mental evaluation for an Indiana woman accused of abducting her two young children and smothering them, possibly delaying her trial by months if not years.
Elkhart Circuit Judge Terry Shewmaker also entered a preliminary not guilty plea for 29-year-old Amber Pasztor of Fort Wayne during her initial hearing on two counts of murder.
She’s accused in the Sept. 26 killings of 7-year-old Liliana Hernandez and 6-year-old Rene Pasztor after their abduction from their custodial grandparents’ home led authorities to issue an Amber Alert. The state is seeking a life sentence without parole.
Public defender Peter Soldato said in his request for the mental evaluation that Pasztor’s attorneys believe she cannot fully understand the legal proceedings she faces or help prepare her defense, The Elkhart Truth reported. He also questioned whether she understood the seriousness of the charges.
Vicki Becker, Elkhart County’s chief deputy prosecutor, said the evaluation process could take 60 to 90 days or much longer if it finds Pasztor needs mental health treatment before she can stand trial.
“It could take months or years, it depends on what they determine in the evaluation,” she said.
Pasztor currently is scheduled to stand trial beginning Jan. 23.
Shewmaker said he may extend the search for two psychiatric experts into Allen County, asking judges there for recommendations. Allen County, where Fort Wayne is located, is about 70 miles southeast of Elkhart.
Pasztor said in a jailhouse interview with WANE-TV she decided to kill her children after hearing of the Amber Alert for them. She said she killed the children so they would be safe in heaven. Pasztor said her children were in good hands in her father’s custody, but she didn’t think they were safe.
“My kids are in a better place. They don’t have no worries no more,” she told the TV station.
Pasztor also admitted that she shot her neighbor, 65-year-old Frank Macomber, and took his car. She has not been charged in Macomber’s death, but Elkhart County Prosecutor Curtis Hill has said she is a suspect. Macomber’s body was found Sept. 27 in a wooded area.