A New York State appeals court affirmed the sentence of a woman convicted of killing her mother — a victim whose other daughter is a key figure in the Gilgo Beach murders.
The state Appellate Division, Third Judicial Department in Albany ruled that Sarra Gilbert should continue serving 25 years in prison instead of in a mental health facility, as her lawyers requested, arguing that the jury should have found she lacked the ability to understand right from wrong due to mental disease or defect.
“We have no doubt that defendant suffers from a debilitating mental illness that blurs the lines of fiction and reality, and we are certainly sympathetic to the difficult life circumstances she has endured,” the appeals panel wrote in its ruling Thursday. “The proof, however, reasonably supports the jury’s finding that, at the time of the killing, defendant had the substantial capacity to know and appreciate both the nature and consequences of her conduct and that such conduct was wrong.”
An Ulster County jury found Gilbert, now 32, guilty in 2017 of second-degree murder in the stabbing death of her 52-year-old mother, Mari Gilbert. Another one of Mari’s daughters, Shannon Gilbert, disappeared from Oak Beach in 2010, leading to the discovery of 10 sets of human remains along Ocean Parkway.
Authorities have said that Sarra stabbed Mari more than 200 times, beat her with a fire extinguisher, and sprayed the fire extinguisher in her mouth, killing her on July 23, 2016.
Footage from a responding police officer’s body camera that was played for the jury at trial showed Sarra tell officers “I killed my mom,” but she later maintained that the victim was still alive. Sarra had also told officers that she had been hearing voices that referred to the victim as the “devil” and a “bad God.”
“[S]he’s still alive, right?” Sarra later told investigators, according to court records. “[I]s this like a joke? I know something is going to happen. My mom is not dead. My mom is not dead.”
Sarra began exhibiting psychotic symptoms well before the murder, has diagnoses of schizophrenia and schizoaffective disorder (bipolar type) and had been hospitalized at least seven times prior to this incident, including in the weeks leading up to it, court records show.
In one episode, she questioned whether her older sister Shannon “was actually deceased despite physical evidence confirming as much, and she testified that, at one point, she believed that she and Shannon had switched bodies,” court records state.
Gilbert is represented by Miller Place-based attorney John Ray, who also represents the Gilbert family in a lawsuit against the Suffolk County Police Department in which he’s fighting to have released to the public the 911 call Shannon made. It was not immediately clear if he planned to appeal Sarra’s case to the state Court of Appeals.