A mentally ill patient who killed a woman after a traffic collision in Orange County could be released after a judge considered the case on Thursday.

In 1994, Leonard Patton, then 29, took a flight from Minnesota to Southern California. When he landed, he rented a car. While driving on Pacific Coast Highway in Seal Beach, he got into a minor traffic accident with Jessica Uniack, 47, at around 9:45 a.m.

When the two stopped to exchange information, Patton attacked and bludgeoned Uniack to death, police said.

Patton then left his rented car at the scene and drove the victim’s car to Irvine Medical Center, where he abandoned the vehicle with Uniack inside, the Los Angeles Times reported.

Uniack’s battered body was found under a pile of blankets and clothes in the passenger seat. She was on her way to deliver homemade cookies to a friend when the collision with Patton occurred.

He was arrested later that night after being spotted by a driver walking along Newport Coast Drive.

  • Leonard Patton, 58, at a court hearing in Santa Ana on Sept. 21, 2023. (KTLA) / Jessica Uniack, 47, seen in a family photo.
  • Orange County Courthouse in Santa Ana, California. (KTLA)
  • Leonard Patton, 58, at a court hearing in Santa Ana on Sept. 21, 2023. (KTLA)

During court hearings, family members said Patton had a history of mental illness and paranoia. He allegedly heard voices in his head telling him to travel. They told prosecutors they had tried to commit Patton to a mental institution a few years prior to Uniack’s death, but were unsuccessful.

Patton was diagnosed with bipolar disorder but his family said he had failed to take medication as prescribed. About six months before the attack, loved ones said his behavior had changed drastically. Usually calm, they said he began having tantrums and fits of rage.

In Uniack’s case, Patton was found not guilty by reason of insanity and was sentenced to life in a state mental hospital.

Representatives and caregivers of Patton, now 58 years old, say he is well enough to be given a conditional release back into the community.

The Orange County District Attorney’s Office, however, is fighting the recommendation as Patton was already given a conditional release in 2006.

He was re-entered into a facility after he violated the terms of his release several times. He was found to have possessed multiple dangerous items including multi-tools with knife blades and with other sharp objects, officials said.

“The fact that he’s a repeat violator is something of great concern to us,” said Orange County District Attorney Todd Spitzer. “Again, I’m asking the Legislature and the Governor to put the appropriate resources into our state mental facilities where we should properly house these individuals and keep them away from society. I don’t know why we would risk releasing the mentally ill back into society when they’re killers.”

Thursday’s hearing at the Orange County Courthouse ended with no final decision made. The proceedings are expected to resume in October.