GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — A woman charged with felony murder and arson following a deadly apartment fire in Grand Rapids is not criminally responsible for the June 2022 blaze, according to a plea this week.
There’s no dispute that 40-year-old Tyeshia Minor set the deadly fire on Bridge Street NW that killed 64-year-old Charles James.
However, her actions were guided by mental illness.
That’s the conclusion of forensic examiners who met with Minor after criminal charges were filed.
An evaluation by the Center for Forensic Psychiatry and an independent evaluation through the Kent County Prosecutor’s Office “both found her not criminally responsible,” Kent County Prosecutor Chris Becker said. “So, I’ve got two doctors saying she’s criminally insane at the time this offense happened. I can’t go in and argue, ‘Well, they’re both wrong,’ based on nothing. We have to go with what the doctors told us. This is what they do for a living. We’ve got to trust the experts.”
On Monday, Minor appeared in Kent County Circuit Court and entered a plea of not guilty by reason of insanity (NGRI). The plea was accepted by Judge Mark Trusock.
“They are pretty rare,” Becker said, later noting he could not readily recall a single prior NGRI murder case from his 28 years in the Kent County Prosecutor’s Office.
Two defense attorneys who appeared with Minor in court on Monday did not return calls seeking comment.
Under Michigan law, if someone is found not guilty by reason of insanity, they don’t walk free. Instead, they must be admitted to the state’s Center for Forensic Psychiatry (CFP) for 60 days, according to the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services.
“Admission of those patients takes priority over all others,” explained MDHHS Public Information Officer Lynn Sutfin in an email to News 8. “Following a 60-day stay at CFP, individuals deemed NGRI may be admitted for treatment of mental illness to any psychiatric hospital, public and private.”
INFERNO BLOCKED DOOR
Tyeshia Minor was arrested within days of the June 14, 2022 fire.
Fire crews were dispatched to an apartment house on Bridge Street near Garfield Avenue NW shortly after 1 a.m. Crews reported flames and heavy smoke showing from James’ second story apartment at the back of the house.
A friend who sometimes stayed with James was able to jump from an upstairs window.
The 49-year-old friend was hospitalized with smoke inhalation.
But James did not make it out.
The cause of the blaze was deemed to be arson, and police determined Minor was responsible.
She knew James and had been at his home for a barbecue earlier that night.
“For whatever reason, she left, came back, was not being let in (to James’ apartment), and that seemed to upset her,” Becker said. “She basically got some lighter fluid and threw it in a bucket with some combustibles, basically lit something on fire.”
The inferno erupted at the top of the exterior staircase, just outside the door to James’ apartment.
The friend who escaped told police that James noticed smoke seeping through the crack at the top of his door.
When he opened it, flames shot into the apartment, and the two men ran to the bathroom to escape.
James’ friend jumped out of the bathroom window, but James, for reasons unknown, did not follow him.
‘SHE EXORCISES DEMONS’
According to testimony at a preliminary hearing, Minor told police she “believed the two occupants at 1205 Bridge Street had demons in them” and “she exorcises demons from people that she sees in the world.”
Charles James’ family has described the 64-year-old as a “good man” who was “fun-loving” and willing to help anybody.
The family declined to speak with News 8 about Minor’s plea, but Becker acknowledged that James’ relatives were not happy with the resolution.
“I know it was very troubling for the family,” Becker said. “The family was very upset. They feel she’s kind of getting away with murder. But I had to tell them, this is how the system works.”
Court records show Minor resisted mental health treatment in the years leading up to the deadly arson.
According to Kent County Probate Court documents, Minor had been in and out of mental health facilities since 2015. She was diagnosed with “schizophrenia,” “paranoid delusions” and “auditory hallucinations telling her to harm herself,” among other conditions.
A doctor noted that she was “non-compliant with medication or treatments.”
In 2016, Minor was hospitalized after giving birth and declaring she wanted to kill her baby and herself.
“WE ALL SAW THE TRAIN COMING”
Milton Mack Junior is state court administrator emeritus.
He also previously served as chief judge for the Wayne County Probate Court.
Mack is a tireless advocate, working to improve how the criminal justice system responds to mental illness.
He’s encouraging judges to issue more court-ordered outpatient treatment instead of waiting until an individual poses an imminent threat that requires hospitalization.
Mack does not have personal knowledge of Tyeshia Minor’s probate record in Kent County, but he compared her likely trajectory to that of a train bound for tragedy.
“We all saw the train coming down the tracks. We all knew the bridge was out,” Mack told News 8. “We had a choice — engage in treatment before she went off the rails — or park ambulances at the bottom of the ravine to pick up the dead and the wounded.”
Milt believes that, in many cases, the current system chooses the latter option.
Prosecutor Becker noted that beyond the initial requirement of a 60-day evaluation at the Center for Forensic Psychiatry, there’s no way to predict how long Tyeshia Minor will remain under secure psychiatric care.
“Under the statute, it’s only 60 days, and then the forensic center can make the determination on what to do with her placement. And, hypothetically, (she could be released),” Becker explained. “I’ve never seen it happen. But under the statute, it’s only 60 days that, really, we can guarantee.”
BECKER FOUGHT KILLER’S RELEASE FROM HOSPITAL
In 2022, Becker successfully fought the release of a Kent City man who shot and killed his father, Phillip Potter, in 2020.
Silas Potter, 18 at the time of his offense, was found not competent to stand trial.
Furthermore, a 63rd District Court judge ruled that Silas’s competency was not restorable, even with mental health treatment.
In October 2022, Becker was stunned when he received a letter from doctors at the Kalamazoo Psychiatric Hospital reporting that Silas was being processed for release.
Becker fired off a letter protesting Silas’s release, which ultimately did not happen.
In October 2023, Kent County Probate Court again ordered that Silas’s treatment continue for at least 365 days.
A social worker noted it was “crucial” that Silas remain in a secure facility.
MINOR IN AND OUT OF JAIL
Tyeshia Minor had numerous criminal arrests in Grand Rapids over the years. Offenses include malicious destruction of property, fleeing police, shoplifting crimes, aggravated assault, absconding on bond and extortion.
She has also spent time in prison. A month before the fire, Minor was discharged from supervision of the Michigan Department of Corrections on a 2019 felony shoplifting case.
The charges filed last year were by far the most serious. Felony murder is punishable by mandatory life in prison, while first-degree arson is punishable by a term of years up to life.