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Sebastopol woman accused of killing mom had history of arrests

Friday, February 8th, 2013 | Posted by

By  & 
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

A Sebastopol woman suspected of stabbing her mother to death made her first court appearance Wednesday, whispering “I love you” to someone in the audience before blurting out statements to the judge.

Judge Jamie Thistlethwaite warned Julia Katherine Franzen, 24, that she was charged with killing her mother, former Palm Drive Hospital nurse Nancy Franzen, 59, and that anything she said could be used against her in the murder case.

Still, Franzen, who authorities said has a history of mental illness, kept talking, offering up a fragmented statement that sounded vaguely like a confession to some spectators in the audience.

“After being abused, it just didn’t make sense for me to go through it the normal way,” Franzen said during her arraignment.

It was unclear exactly what she meant.

Neither her lawyer, George Boisseau, nor any of the half-dozen people who came to see her would comment outside court.

Her next court date is Feb. 11.

Franzen was arrested Monday at her mother’s Tocchini Street home. A neighbor reported Franzen had a knife in her bloody hands and had admitted killing someone, authorities said.

Nancy Franzen worked at Palm Drive as a medical-surgical nurse sometime before 2007 and was active in local Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, according to friends and former colleagues.

“She did her job very well and tried to have a smile doing it,” said Lori Semmelmeyer, a Palm Drive emergency employee.

Semmelmeyer said she knew the woman had ongoing problems with her daughter. Local police officers had been called out to the home many times, she said.

Semmelmeyer and Nancy Franzen often sought advice from a Sebastopol police officer who stopped by the hospital to drop off patients.

“He knew a lot of us had troubles with our teenagers,” she said.

Nancy Franzen did everything she could to help Julia and her granddaughter, including building her an apartment unit on the property, Semmelmeyer said.

“When Nancy would try to talk to her, she would never get just a logical answer,” Semmelmeyer said. “The daughter was always over the top. She built her an apartment, but she would say, ‘That’s just not enough.’ ”

Deputies said they were dispatched to the house several times in the past two years on domestic violence calls in which Julia Franzen was the suspect.

Court records show Franzen was convicted in a March 2011 assault on her mother and sentenced to two years’ probation. The judge, Thistlethwaite, issued a stay-away order from her mother’s house.

Later that year, she served six months in jail for vandalism and inflicting corporal injury on a spouse. A male victim received a restraining order against her.

A judge sentenced Franzen to 90 days in jail last year for violating the order and obstructing officers. She had another violation in August but was released for time already served.

Over the past two years, court records show Franzen was ordered to take medication and was examined by court psychologists, who had mixed views on her mental competence. The last doctor to look at her in March found she was mentally fit.

Franzen is certain to be examined again. Criminal proceedings will likely be suspended until the court can determine whether she can assist in her own defense.

She could later mount an insanity defense that could send her to a state mental institution until it is determined she is sane and can stand trial. She would go to prison for 25 years to life if convicted of first-degree murder.

At Nancy Franzen’s home on Wednesday, friends and neighbors stopped by to drop off flowers and cards at a makeshift memorial on the steps of her front porch. One card read, “We are so sorry you had to go that way. She knows not what she did. May you rest in peace in a better place.”

Several visitors said they were fellow members of a local Alcoholics Anonymous group and they had just come over from a meeting. They said Nancy Franzen had been an AA member for several years and described her as a “happy” person who was “enjoying her life.”

“She seemed to be in a really good mood around the holidays,” said one fellow AA member, who asked that his name not be used.

The AA member said Franzen had recently made “pink cloud” cookies and cupcakes to celebrate the fact that she was in a good place.

Another fellow AA member said she was in contact with Nancy Franzen’s sister and that she was not yet willing to speak to the media because she was still “in a state of shock.”

Deputies found her mother’s body on a bedroom floor. A trail of blood in the home showed Nancy Franzen was attacked in one room and moved through others before she collapsed, Sheriff’s Lt. Dennis O’Leary said.

An autopsy was conducted Wednesday.

The mother and daughter moved into the house about 15 years ago, neighbors said. Julia Franzen graduated from Analy High School in 2006 and had a daughter. They lived with Nancy Franzen for a period of time.

Writer Spotlight

Andrea Granahan is our West County correspondent.
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