Contact Form

    News Details

    OC judge rules mentally ill killer will not be released to outpatient facility
    • October 6, 2023

    An Orange County judge ruled late Thursday that a drifter who bludgeoned a Huntington Harbour woman to death on a beachside road nearly 30 years ago will not be released from a state mental hospital to an outpatient facility due to concerns that he remains a potential danger to the community.

    Leonard Patton never went to prison for the 1994 killing of Jessica Uniack, a 47-year-old mother of two who Patton attacked with a tire iron and struck more than 20 times in the head and body. Instead, Patton was found not guilty by reason of insanity and has spent the vast majority of the decades since the killing receiving treatment in a locked state mental hospital.

    Doctors treating Patton recently determined that he was ready to move to move to an outpatient facility, concluding that the psychosis that led to the killing and Patton’s social phobia and severe social anxiety issues were under control due to medication and Patton’s acceptance of his condition and his crimes.

    That led to an outcry by Uniack’s family and pushback from prosecutors, who noted that a similar release in 2006 to Leisure Towers Guest Home — a facility in Orange — ended with Patton repeatedly violating the terms of his release and being sent back to a state hospital.

    After a series of recent hearings, Orange County Superior Court Judge Erin Rowe on Thursday denied the request to move Patton to an outpatient facility, finding that he still poses an undue risk to the community. Along with citing his past “knowing” rule violations, the judge also noted that Patton’s “baseline state” is one of severe social phobia that can lead to impulsive decisions and aggressive thoughts.

    “The court is concerned about Mr. Patton’s ability to cope,” Rowe said.

    A group of around two dozen Uniack’s family members and supporters embraced outside the Santa Ana courtroom following the ruling. Most wore green in honor of Uniack, who was born on St. Patrick’s Day.

    “There is obviously some relief,” said Alex Uniack, one of Jessica’s sons. “It is not something you want to celebrate, it is not like everything is ok. It is nice to have a good day in court, but in the back of my head I know it will come up again.”

    Patton, who was not in the courtroom but participated through video conferencing, is currently housed at the Sylmar Health and Rehabilitation Center. Had the judge approved his request there was talk that he could have been housed at Leisure Towers again, though the facility apparently revoked that possibility after Patton’s potential move was reported in the media, according to testimony.

    During Patton’s time at Leisure Towers in 2006, DA investigators followed Patton to an auto parts store in Riverside County and watched him purchase a tool that could be used as a knife. A search of his room also turned up knife blades and other sharp objects, court records show, and Patton was moved back to a locked facility.

    Dr. Nicole Caceres testified that Patton’s past violations during his treatment was self-sabotaging behavior related to his social phobia. The doctor said Patton has made significant strides in treatment, has accepted his condition, acknowledges the behaviors he needs to avoid and is ready to move to an outpatient facility for his next step in reintegrating into the community.

    “Mr. Patton has evidenced the ability to withstand a very stressful situation and not self-sabotage,” the doctor said of his progress.

    Deputy Public Defender Shawn McDonald noted it has been more than 15 years since Patton’s last stint in an outpatient facility. McDonald argued such a move now would be safe for the community and beneficial to Patton’s treatment.

    “We had concerns over the years and the concerns have been addressed,” McDonald told the judge. “He has been treated, slowly and deliberately.”

    Deputy District Attorney Kimberly Wah argued that the doctor had acknowledged during her testimony that if Patton were to stop taking his medication he could “decompress” quickly and suffer psychotic symptoms. The prosecutor noted that with Leisure Towers no longer an option it wasn’t clear where Patton would be housed, if released, and what the rules would be.

    “This court, and the community, cannot take that risk,” Wah said.

    At the time of his arrest, Patton’s family expressed relief that he had been captured, after they had tried unsuccessfully to get him committed to a mental health facility prior to the killing.

    On Dec. 8, 1994, according to court filings, voices in Patton’s head persuaded him to take a plane from his home in Minnesota to Los Angeles. He rented a car, drove to Orange County and got in a fender bender with Jessica Uniack along Pacific Coast Highway in Seal Beach.

    As Uniack got out of her car to exchange information Patton immediately attacked her, killing her. Patton abandoned his rental car, instead stuffing Uniack’s body onto the passenger floor of her own vehicle and driving to a nearby hospital emergency room. He then stole a truck, and was found by police wandering around Newport Beach.

    In comments to the judge, Alex Uniack said that at the time of the not guilty by reason of insanity verdict, “We were told the man who murdered my mom would spend the rest of his life where he belongs — in a locked state hospital.” The son described the recent hearings as a “grueling process” in which doctors helped Patton make sure he was dealing with the stress of the legal process while “the families are left on their own.”

    “Please don’t allow him the freedom to do this again,” the son told the judge.

    Orange County DA Todd Spitzer indicated he was pleased with the ruling.

    “A convicted murderer who bludgeoned an innocent 47-year-old mother of two after a traffic accident will remain in a locked facility as a result of vigorous advocacy by the Orange County District Attorney’s Office to prevent him from being released back to the community,” Spitzer said in a written statement. “We will never stop fighting to protect public safety and we are relieved that the victims’ loved ones can sleep soundly knowing the man who murdered their mother will not be allowed to live freely among the rest of society.”

    Staff writer Tony Saavedra contributed to this report.

    Related Articles

    Crime and Public Safety |

    Trump allegedly discussed nuclear secrets with Mar-a-Lago member

    Crime and Public Safety |

    Trump claims presidential immunity for Jan. 6 actions

    Crime and Public Safety |

    Evidence: Trump’s financial statements integral to loan deal

    Crime and Public Safety |

    Police blame some deaths on ‘excited delirium.’ ER docs consider pulling the plug on the term.

    Crime and Public Safety |

    Julia Ormond sues Weinstein saying he assaulted her

    ​ Orange County Register