CLEVELAND HEIGHTS, Ohio — A Cleveland Heights woman currently jailed for allegedly stabbing a woman in a church this week because of her fur clothing was found not guilty by reason of insanity as part of a separate case just hours before the attack, according to court records.
Meredith Lowell, 35, was found not guilty by reason of insanity after a short bench trial Wednesday on charges that she pulled out a knife on a woman wearing fur clothing in November 2018.
Hours later on Wednesday, Lowell walked into Fairmount Presbyterian Church in Cleveland Heights and allegedly stabbed a woman multiple times before children’s choir practice, according to a Cleveland Heights police report. When police responded to the church, the female victim was on the floor, surrounded by blood, holding the left side of her body.
In the seconds after the attack, a church staff member and parishioner both managed to subdue Lowell by pinning her to the ground. When officers arrived, they reported finding a yellow kitchen knife next to Lowell.
The motive behind the attack is believed to be the victim wearing fur, said Cleveland Heights Police Chief Annette Mecklenburg.
Lowell’s history of documented mental illness and fixation on fur dates back to at least 2012, according to court records. A federal grand jury indicted Lowell, an extreme animal rights activist, on solicitation for murder charges after she allegedly used a library computer to solicit a hit man on the internet who would be tasked with killing people wearing fur clothing.
“I would like to create an online community on Facebook which would allow me to find someone who is willing to kill someone who is wearing fur toward the end of October 2011 or early November 2011 or possibly January 2012 or February 2012 at the latest,” Lowell wrote, according to the indictment.
After the arrest, the court ordered Lowell to undergo psychological evaluations.
After multiple evaluations, forensic psychologists determined Lowell was not competent to stand trial because of mental disease or defect. Additionally, experts determined that it was unlikely that Lowell could be restored to competency because of her mental disease or defect.
Out of concern that Lowell would be a risk to the general public or herself, prosecutors requested an evaluation for Lowell’s risk of dangerousness, a more detailed evaluation aimed to examine their potential for future crimes or violence. Prosecutors told the court that Lowell passed a handwritten note to jail guards shortly after her arrest. That note indicated that if Lowell were to be released, she would contract another hit man to kill a person who is wearing fur or even kill the fur-wearing person herself, according to court records. Federal prosecutors sought to have Lowell civilly committed for mental health treatment.
The forensic psychologist determined that although Lowell was incompetent to stand trial, she did not pose a risk to the general public, herself or property. Because of this determination, federal law requires the charges to be dismissed, although prosecutors have the opportunity to re-file at a later date.
According to probate court records, Lowell was receiving mental health treatment for a period of time following the dismissal of the charges against her. Court records state Lowell, who apparently suffers from Aspberger’s Syndrome, was seeing a psychologist every two weeks.
In December 2018, Lowell’s parents applied for guardianship of their daughter, believing that she was incapable of taking care of herself. The application was granted.
In the court’s findings, the magistrate judge determined Lowell had become preoccupied with halting the fur trade. The previous month, November 2018, Lowell was at a church and reportedly pulled the hair of a woman who was wearing a coat lined with fur, court records state. One week after this incident, Lowell pulled a Swiss Army knife on a woman at a grocery store, which was believed by her parents to be prompted by the woman wearing fur, court records state. Lowell was then involuntarily committed to Lutheran Hospital before being transferred to Northcoast Behavioral for treatment.
In January 2019, Lowell was indicted in Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas for felonious assault in connection with the incident in which she allegedly pulled a knife on a woman. She was released on $5,000 bond and her case was later transferred to mental health court, a specialized docket for individuals with documented mental health-related issues.
After additional psychological evaluations, Lowell opted for a bench trial in connection with the case. The trial was held Wednesday. In court filings, the judge determined Lowell was not guilty by reason of insanity.
“The court finds probable cause to believe the defendant, having been found not guilty by reason of insanity, is a mentally ill person subject to hospitalization [or] institutionalization by court order,”
The judge, Honorable Michael Shaughnessy, referred Lowell to the county court’s psychiatric clinic for determination of whether she is a mentally ill person subject to hospitalization or institutionalization.
However, it does not appear that Judge Shaughnessy issued a temporary order of detention, which would have kept Lowell in county custody until a hearing could be held on whether she was institutionalized. Because no temporary order was issued, Lowell was freed to the custody of her parents.
The stabbing at Fairmount Presbyterian happened later that day. Judge Shaughnessy did not return calls made to his bailiff on Friday afternoon.