Kim Blackhall sits in Salem Superior Court yesterday. She has admitted to killing her mother.

HAMILTON -- In the hours after her elderly mother's body was found in their Hamilton home, Kim Blackhall gave police a disjointed and rambling statement in which she claimed she'd been forced to act in self-defense.

"Tell me what happened," state police Trooper Brandon Arakelian asked on the morning of Dec. 19, 2005.

"Aw, geez," Blackhall responded in a gruff smoker's voice. She described a fight the two had -- "she was leaning on me" -- that turned physical. "She attacked me," Blackhall claimed in an interview with police that was taped and played in court yesterday.

But it was Ruby Blackhall, 82, a longtime Hamilton resident and former teacher at Gordon College, who would die that night. Police say Ruby Blackhall, who at 120 pounds was about half her daughter's size, was beaten and stomped to death.

Investigators later learned that Kim Blackhall had a long history of mental illness, dating back some two decades, and that she had stopped taking the medication prescribed for bipolar disorder.

As her jury-waived trial on second-degree murder charges got underway yesterday in Salem Superior Court, the question for Judge David Lowy is not whether she killed her mother but whether she was legally insane at the time -- and, if so, what to do with her.

Experts for both the prosecution and the defense have concluded that Blackhall, now 45, was not sane at the time. They are expected to testify today about their opinions, which differ somewhat, about her future health and chances for recovery.

Blackhall, who has been at Framingham State Prison awaiting trial, now takes three different medications, including lithium, to stabilize her mood. After answering a few questions from the judge, she sat silently throughout the rest of yesterday's proceedings, showing no reaction to the evidence being presented.

She was more emotional when she called 911 on the morning after she killed her mother.

"My mother died in the house," Blackhall told the dispatcher between what sounded like deep breaths or sobs. "I tried to keep her from falling. She clocked her head."

Blackhall also told the dispatcher: "She tried to kill me."

House in disarray

When police arrived at the home the two shared at 58 School St., they found the house in extreme disarray, with furniture strewn about, piles of clothing and other items all over, and holes punched in the walls.

Then they found Ruby Blackhall, dead on the floor, her face bloodied and bruised, covered with items Kim Blackhall would later tell Arakelian were "symbolic" of the arguments they frequently had: food, a purse she had frequently raided for gas money, mentholated rub, cleaning supplies and a television set.

Blackhall told Arakelian and Hamilton Detective Karen Wallace that her mother had been abusing her emotionally for years and that she had "made me feel like crap."

"I went out of my mind," Blackhall told the investigators. "I was insane."

As her mother was dying, Blackhall said, she "brought her back to life" by praying and checked on her over and over, but then concluded, "I'd done everything I could. It was too late."

She then got into her mother's car and drove around for most of the night, picking up a homeless man she had met at Denny's along the way.

During the night, as Blackhall drove around the North Shore, she encountered at least two police officers. In Lynn, she was stopped on Summit Street after trying to pass another car at a red light. Hours later, Danvers police Sgt. Kevin Janvrin saw her acting oddly in a Dunkin' Donuts on Route 114.

Neither officer took note of the blood stains on her pants and her hands, though Janvrin did notice that she was acting strangely.

A Shell gas station employee in Salem and a clerk at the Dunkin' Donuts on Enon Street in Beverly offered similar assessments. At Kelly's Roast Beef in Revere, she chatted with an employee about the upcoming holidays. And a Northshore Mall store owner met Blackhall that morning at the Starbucks there, recalling that she talked about the O.J. Simpson and Robert Blake murder cases while waiting for her coffee.

Told by Arakelian she was going to be charged, Blackhall asked, "Am I gonna be convicted for murder one?"

"I don't make that decision," Arakelian responded.

She reminded him again that she had acted in self-defense. "I understand you have to make an arrest because of what happened. It could be circumstantial evidence. Not that I wanted to kill the woman ..."

She then told investigators: "I'm not a danger to myself or others -- well, I guess I am."

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