Family says mother killed by son with mental illness fought to get him help

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — On Oct. 31 at the Mecklenburg County Courthouse, Bernadette Lightner and her family fought back the tears they’d been crying since police found Marcella Thrash stabbed to death at her north Charlotte home on an April morning in 2017.

“I was then taken by an officer to a vehicle to be identified and informed that my sister was dead and that my nephew, Dionte, was in police custody. We were in total shock and disbelief. None of us, your honor, none of us, we never saw this coming,” Lightner said.

Two and a half years later, Dionte Long would stand shackled in a Charlotte courtroom, where a judge would find him not guilty of his mother's murder by reason of insanity.

“I have no doubt in my own mind that Mr. Long is mentally ill and has been for a long time,” Judge Robert Bell said.

Bell said that in 33 years on the bench he’d never seen a case where prosecutors and defense attorneys agreed that mental illness was so severe that not guilty is the correct verdict.

But the real tragedy of Thrash's life and death is that after Long was diagnosed as paranoid and schizophrenic, she had tried for years to get help for her son.

>> In the video at the top of this page, Channel 9’s Mark Becker speaks with her family about how they say the system failed her.

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