ELLENVILLE, N.Y. — Sarra Gilbert, accused of fatally stabbing her mother here Saturday — nearly five years after the discovery of her sister Shannan’s body near Gilgo Beach during the search for a serial killer, apologized before a court hearing Tuesday.
“I love my family and I’m very sorry . . . ” a handcuffed Gilbert, clad in an orange jailhouse jumpsuit, told reporters as Ulster County sheriff’s deputies escorted her into court.
Prosecutors charged Gilbert, 27, with second-degree murder and fourth-degree criminal possession of a weapon in connection with the Saturday morning death of her mother, Mari Gilbert, 52.
Mari Gilbert served as a vocal advocate in the pursuit of justice for her daughter Shannan Gilbert, a sex worker who went missing in 2010. The search for Shannan Gilbert uncovered 10 sets of remains that police said may have been the work of one or possibly more serial killers. Her body was found in Oak Beach in December 2011.
Saturday, she had gone to her daughter Sarra’s apartment to check on her when she was killed, according to John Ray, who has long represented the Gilbert family as they sought answers for Shannan’s death. Police officers arrived at Sarra Gilbert’s apartment Saturday afternoon to find her in bloody clothing and her mother’s body nearby.
They arrested Gilbert at the scene and recovered a 15-inch kitchen knife they believe was used in the killing.
Ray, of Miller Place, represented Sarra Gilbert on Tuesday at her hearing before Judge Matthew J. Parker in Ellenville Village Court. Parker ordered Gilbert, the mother of a 7-year-old boy, remanded to Ulster County Jail. He also ordered her to undergo a psychiatric evaluation — against her initial wishes.
Sarra Gilbert has schizophrenia and made it clear in a closed-door meeting with Parker before the hearing that she wanted to enter a guilty plea, said Ray, who also attended the meeting.
“Sarra wants me to express to the court that she does not wish to submit to a psychiatric exam,” Ray said, noting that he advised Gilbert multiple times that she should consent to the evaluation. “She expressed that she wanted to enter a guilty plea, but this is often the case with people who are not mentally competent, so that expression is not given very much weight by anyone.”
Parker patiently explained criminal case procedure to Gilbert and told her she could not plead guilty to a felony in village court. The judge also advised Gilbert to take her lawyer’s advice and agree to his court order.
“It is important that we as a court understand, that you understand the charges, that you are capable of aiding in your defense and you can understand the advice that counsel has given,” the judge told Gilbert.
She nodded and replied, “Yes, I understand,” before agreeing to undergo the evaluation.
Ray requested “reasonable” bail, citing Gilbert’s strong ties to this small, upstate village and surrounding community. A prosecutor on the case called her a “significant flight risk.”
Gilbert killed her mother while out on bail in an animal cruelty case in which she is accused of drowning her pit bull puppy, said Ulster County Assistant District Attorney Emmanuel Nneji.
“She’s a significant flight risk given the conduct she’s accused of here,” Nneji said. “The character she has displayed, given that she drowned the puppy . . . and in doing what she’s accused of doing here, that should suggest to the court that she’s a significant flight risk.”
According to court documents, at about 10 a.m. Saturday inside her Warren Street home, Sarra Gilbert “intentionally repeatedly stabbed” her mother with a 15-inch kitchen knife and struck her with a fire extinguisher, causing her death.
Family members asked police to check on Mari Gilbert’s condition after they grew concerned when she didn’t answer her phone, authorities said.
Ray said Sarra Gilbert, who had been hospitalized in the last year for her mental health issues, was not taking her medication and was “hearing voices” in the days before the killing and had been fighting with family members for custody of her son, now living with his father’s family.
Sarra Gilbert is due back in court Aug. 16.
Gilbert family members did not attend the hearing and declined to comment. A family friend, Yolanda Cianci, said outside court that she knew the Gilberts from the village and had followed the news coverage of the mystery surrounding Shannan Gilbert’s death. The Suffolk medical examiner has said her cause of death remains “undetermined” and police have said it is not linked to the other victims.
“It’s heartbreaking,” said Cianci, 68. “When is the pain for all those girls going to stop?”