Wash. killer’s escape highlights that many patients live among us
SPOKANE - Phillip A. Paul in 1987 was declared criminally insane for killing an elderly woman after voices in his head told him she was a witch.
Instead of being straitjacketed and locked away as might be depicted by film or fiction, Paul in the past two decades has spent time living and working in downtown Spokane, fathered a child, created music videos and racked up $85,000 in credit card bills.
"I can tell you there was an extreme amount of anger in the law enforcement community," said Spokane County Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich, who plans to bill the state $37,000 for his department's expenses.
But no one should be surprised. Thousands of people have been declared criminally insane in the United States over the decades, and at any given time large numbers of them are not in custody. Paul was among 31 patients from Eastern State Hospital on the field trip to the fair. All were from the forensics unit, meaning they had been committed to the hospital because of a crime. All such field trips, which were common, are now suspended in Washington.
The field trip was possible because people found not guilty by reason of insanity are legally patients, not prison inmates. They have no sentence to serve. The goal of mental hospitals is to cure them and return them to society. Better treatment, including psychotropic drugs, plus a focus on patients' rights, have resulted in many being released in just a few years.
Thomas Gergen, for example, was found not guilty by reason of insanity in 2003 for killing his pregnant wife and their unborn child. The King County man spent five years at Western State Hospital before doctors concluded he had responded well to medication for schizophrenia and he was released.
The number of people found not guilty by reason of insanity in the United States each year is not readily available, although the figure is thought to be small. In Washington, the number is between 25 and 35 a year. No one compiles national statistics on such cases, or on how long people remain in custody, said Dr. Paul S. Appelbaum of Columbia University, a past president of the American Psychiatric Association.
There are also no nationwide statistics on whether the criminally insane who are released commit new crimes of violence, he said.
A 1996 study of 43 forensic patients at an outpatient treatment program in Chicago found that eight had been arrested or commited new crimes after being released from a mental hospital.
While the notion of criminally insane killers escaping from hospitals to go on killing sprees is a staple of slasher movies, there are few instances where that actually occurred.
More common is the story of Phillip Paul. He was found not guilty by reason of insanity for the 1987 slaying of a 78-year-old woman in Sunnyside, during a period when he could not control his schizophrenia.
He was sent to Eastern State Hospital in Medical Lake, a suburb of Spokane. Paul escaped in 1990, but was immediately recaptured. He attacked and severely injured the deputy who was booking him back into jail.
Yet in 1992 he was considered well enough to attend classes at Spokane Falls Community College, and to work in retail stores for up to 30 hours per week.
In 1998, he left the hospital for two-week visits with his family in Sunnyside, and in June 2000 was allowed to move in with them. By October he was ordered back to the mental hospital because of delusional behavior.
In 2005, he was granted conditional release by a judge to move into an assisted living center called The Carlyle in downtown Spokane. He dated a woman, who eventually bore him a son. But he was back in the mental hospital within four months for refusing his medications.
In 2007, Paul was again released into the community, but in January of this year was ordered back to the mental hospital because of erratic behavior.
During his various releases, Paul wrote songs and created music videos for his band, "Philly Willy and the Hillbillies." Many of the songs — with titles like "Rock n Roll in the mental institution" and "Nut Hut," were about mental illness. He obtained several credit cards and went on shopping sprees that led to a bankruptcy filing.
In interviews after his capture, Paul, 47, has said he was just looking for some "sunshine."
"I knew it was the wrong thing to do. I just wanted my freedom so bad," Paul told a television station. "I didn't hurt nobody and wasn't planning on doing that."
In Washington, the Department of Social and Health Services operates two units for the criminally insane, at Eastern State and Western State Hospital in Lakewood. There are 359 patients in the two forensics units.
In the last fiscal year, 11 were discharged from Eastern State, where the average length of stay was three and one-third years. At Western State, 17 patients were discharged, and the average stay was three and two-thirds years.
Escapes from the forensics units are rare, according to DSHS.
Since 1999, there have been only four escapes from Eastern State, and only one escape from Western State, the agency said.
David Weston, chief of the agency's Office of Mental Health Services, said people should not be surprised that killers live among them. Many people who are actually convicted of murder serve their time and are released, Weston said.
Also, it is wrong to believe that people who suffer from mental illness are more dangerous than criminals who are sane.
"The stereotype that these are the most dangerous people in society is simply not true," Weston said. "They are much less dangerous than many routine criminals."
Authorities must balance protecting the public from any future violence, while treating the patient and preparing them to return to society, Weston said.
Jennifer Stuber, who studies mental health stigma at the University of Washington, said coverage of Paul's escape raised many negative stereotypes, especially terms like "insane killer."
"Some of the headlines were really upsetting," she said. "They imply that a diagnosis of schizophrenia is associated with violence."
A recent ruling by the Georgia Supreme Court underscores the necessity that the state legislature uses the utmost care in drafting state laws. Even though the court reached the correct conclusion in this case, the decision would not have been necessary if the law had been properly constructed at the outset.
Chase v The State
In Chase v. The State, the high court was asked to consider consent as a valid defense to a charge of sexual assault of a student by a teacher under O.C.G.A. 16-6-5.1(b). In the case, the student, Christy Elaine Garcia, was a 16-year-old junior attending Harlem High School in Harlem, Georgia. She admitted to pursuing a romantic relationship with a teacher at the school, 28-year-old Melissa Lee Chase. Chase was not Garcia's teacher at the time of the incident. The two did develop a relationship with one another and had one incidence of sexual contact.
Although Garcia's father and stepmother, with whom she lived, had knowledge of the relationship and allowed Garcia to stay with Chase, Garcia's mother did not know about it. After finding a note from Chase to Garcia with romantic overtures, Garcia's mother reported it to the police. The police then charged Chase with sexual assault for her illegal sexual contact with a student.
At trial, Chase claimed the charges should be dismissed because the relationship was consensual. However, the trial court disagreed, interpreting the language of O.C.G.A. 16-6-5.1(c)(3) to invalidate consent as a defense to the charges. Consequently, Chase was sentenced to 10 years in prison and 5 years probation and was required to register as a convicted sex offender.
On appeal, the appellate court upheld the finding by the trial court, again interpreting the language of the statute to prevent Chase from bringing a valid consent defense. Chase appealed the case to the Georgia Supreme Court.
Sexual Assault: O.C.G.A. 16-6-5.1
The statute at the heart of the debate in the Chase case has four subsections:
Subsection "a" defines the terms in the statute
Subsection "b" makes it a crime for someone with supervisory or disciplinary authority over another to have sexual contact with them, including those who are in a student-teacher relationship
Subsection "c" defines sexual assault for those with supervisory or disciplinary authority over someone in legal custody or detained in a hospital or other institution
Subsection "d" applies to sexual assault committed by those who work in long-term care, nursing homes, home health care and hospices against the patients
Importantly, only subsection c has language that explicitly says that consent is not an accepted defense to the crime, stating: "consent of the victim shall not be a defense to a prosecution under this subsection" (emphasis added) (O.C.G.A. 16-6-5.1(c)(B)(3)).
The Georgia Supreme Court's Decision
In reversing the decisions by the trial and appellate courts, the Georgia Supreme Court stressed the importance of reading the statute in accordance with the plain language of the law. After considering the statutory language, the court concluded that the explicit removal of consent as a defense to the law only applied to subsection c (those with authority over legal or hospital detainees) and not to the other subsections of the statute.
The court also stated that the statute must be read in harmony with Georgia's other laws, including the age of consent law. In Georgia, the legal age of consent for sexual contact is currently 16, meaning that anyone age 16 or older can enter into a consensual sexual relationship. Thus, state law only prohibits sexual contact with minors who are age 15 or younger.
In accordance with Georgia's consent law, the court reasoned that it would produce an illogical and unjust result if consent was removed as a defense to the other subsections of O.C.G.A. 16-6-5.1. If there was no consent defense, then the age of the parties would not matter and only the status as a teacher and student who had sexual contact would be necessary to convict under this law - a law which carries a 10-30 year prison sentence.
Accordingly, a professor could be convicted for having sexual relations with a consenting adult graduate student who was 30 years old. It is difficult if not impossible to make a persuasive argument that the legislature intended such an absurd result.
Thus, the Georgia Supreme Court reversed the lower court decisions and ruled that consent is in fact a valid defense to a charge of sexual assault under O.C.G.A. 16-6-5.1(b).
Although the court absolutely reached the right decision in Chase, one would shudder to think of the consequences if it had not. If the trial court's decision had been upheld, Chase would have lost 10 years of her life behind bars, spent another 5 on probation and then, to add further insult to injury, been forced to register as a sex offender in the state - all for engaging in a consensual sexual act.
The truth of the matter is that the court never should have had to decide a case like this one. Elected legislators need to take time to carefully consider the full implications of proposed legislation when they are drafting laws, especially when it comes to criminalizing and punishing certain behaviors. Certainly, had the Georgia Supreme Court ruled otherwise, Ms. Chase would not have been the only person in the state to be unfairly punished by an absurd law.
The clinical program will allow law students to work on cases of imprisoned, convicted criminals whom they believe may be not guilty.
The clinic will be patterned after about 30 others that already exist at law schools nationwide, said Lawrence Hellman, dean of the university’s law school.
Hellman said the need is great in Oklahoma for this type of work.
"Between 1996 and 2003, there were 10 exonerations in this state based on DNA evidence,” Hellman said.
"Oklahoma ranks in the top 10 for exonerations nationwide, which means we rank in the top 10 for wrongful convictions.”
Law students are offered classes that are theory driven, but clinics like this one give students an opportunity to experience practicing law, said Josh Snavely, president of OCU’s student bar association.
"I think any student would benefit from this, no matter what kind of law they intend to practice when they graduate,” Snavely said.
"Clinics like this give us a chance to get our feet wet and see how the law actually impacts people’s lives.”
Students would earn course credit for their work and be supervised by a licensed attorney, Hellman said. They would solely consider Oklahoma cases that have exhausted their appeals, and likely take on a few each year, he said.
University officials say the clinic will not be launched until they’ve raised enough proceeds to operate it for five years.
Their fundraising effort included a public appearance this week by best-selling author John Grisham. Grisham spoke about his nonfiction work "The Innocent Man,” the story of Ron Williamson, a former Ada resident who spent more than a decade on death row for a murder he didn’t commit.
The clinic is expected to cost about $250,000 annually to operate. It would include the salary for an instructor and expenses such as court costs and investigator fees incurred when taking on cases of this magnitude, Hellman said. Hellman said their intention is not to shut down the criminal justice system, but find ways to improve it.
"We don’t believe the system is bad or evil, but we know, like any human institution, it is imperfect,” Hellman said. "We want to help correct the few but still significant mistakes that occur.”
Testing of potential DNA evidence in Delaware has lagged in recent years because of staff shortages, high caseloads and poor communication among police, prosecutors and Delaware's Office of the Chief Medical Examiner.
Those delays have affected the disposition of a handful of criminal cases, and caused several more trials to be pushed back, potentially violating the defendants' right to a speedy trial. For example:
Child rape overturned
_____ was convicted in November 2006 of raping a 12-year-old girl, sexual exploitation, sexual solicitation of a child and possession of child pornography. _____ had been arrested more than a year earlier after his girlfriend found a sex toy and Polaroid photos of the girl posing naked with the device in his closet.
_____'s second-degree rape conviction was overturned on appeal in March 2008. The Delaware Supreme Court ruled that state prosecutors, despite getting three trial continuances, violated _____'s right to a speedy trial by not giving his attorney a full DNA report in a timely manner.
DNA evidence was not provided to the DNA lab until March 1, 2006, 36 days before the scheduled start of the trial. State law requires prosecutors provide DNA reports to defense attorneys 45 days before trial.
The trial initially was scheduled for April 2006. Prosecutors received three continuances -- until June, then July and finally November -- in part because the case was assigned to a different deputy attorney general. The DNA report was completed in late July -- more than enough time to meet the 45-day deadline for the November trial.
By that time, though, the justices later ruled, the state had already violated _____'s rights.
Hal G. Brown, deputy director of the Medical Examiner's Office, said his office worked as fast as it could to conduct the testing once it received the evidence. The Attorney General's Office would not discuss the case. _____, now 40, is serving 12 years in prison on the other charges.
Testing negative on jailed rape suspect
_____ was arrested by Wilmington police in September 2008, a few days after a woman told police she was raped by one or more men who attacked her while she walked to her boyfriend's home in Wilmington's West Center City area. _____ denied any involvement, writing later in a letter to the judge that he was in the area and the woman asked him if he "had anything" and "I thought she was asking for drugs."
_____, 28, whom the alleged victim identified from a photo lineup, was charged with first-degree rape, robbery, kidnapping and other offenses that could have put him behind bars for life.
Clothing found at the scene and other potential evidence were submitted to the crime lab in late September. A DNA analyst notified prosecutors that, per lab policy, the evidence wouldn't be assigned for testing until a trial date was scheduled, and that testing would take about four months once it was assigned.
In November, a judge set an April 28, 2009, trial date, but prosecutors misplaced the case file. The file was not found until mid-February, when analysts were finally notified of the trial date.
Prosecutors tried to get _____ to take a plea bargain but he resisted, insisting that DNA testing would exonerate him. The state asked Superior Court Judge William C. Carpenter Jr. for a continuance and he granted it until Aug. 4. But Carpenter, concerned that _____ had been behind bars for more than seven months pending trial, released him on $165,000 unsecured bail on April 20. The lab's report was completed June 25. _____'s DNA was not on the clothing sample, and prosecutors ultimately dropped the charges.
Why was this not a problem before, why now? They apparently lived near a park, and the police are suppose to know where the offenders are, so why, all of a sudden, when a playground is put into a park, it's a problem? That doesn't make much sense. This smells like it has Ron Book's name written all over it. Listen to the video below. For five years, sex offenders have been there, without any issues, until now.
By Gio Benitez
FORT LAUDERDALE (CBS4) - The Mission at Saint Francis is a special housing project where drug and alcohol addicts get help. For the past five years, it's been a home and a sanctuary for sexual offenders and predators. Six of them live here. They have jobs, but say they can't afford what happens next. On Wednesday, Oct. 21, they might be homeless.
"We can't afford to lose track of them," Fort Lauderdale Mayor Jack Seiler told CBS4's Gio Benitez.
Mayor Seiler is concerned. His city just renovated Hardy Park. It's been there for years, but now, it has a new playground for children, which happens to be just two blocks away from the Saint Francis Mission. Mayor Seiler said the city didn't know the treatment center was there. That means predators need to pack up and leave.
"These individuals need to be in a facility where they are monitored, where they are treated, and hopefully rehabilitated. We don't want to push them out onto the streets because that's not good for anybody," said Mayor Seiler.
Seiler has been saying this for years, but today his hands are tied because with the new playground, state law says sexual predators still under supervision need to find a new home, even if that means onto the streets. - The offenders were there first, so they should not have to be uprooted every time a park or playground is opened up. By pushing them into homelessness, you are potentially putting more people in danger and increasing the risk of someone committing another crime.
Parents who brought their children to the park Saturday see that as the right choice.
"They have to move because this is a beautiful park. The kids play very nice here. Looks good, looks clean. I think they have to move away," said Edgar Alarcon, a parent visiting the park. - Well, if you are there at the park with your kids, then what is the problem? Stop stomping on peoples rights to make you feel safe. If you want to be safe, protect your kids and yourself. Wait until one of your kids is slammed with the sex offender label, and you have to constantly be uprooted!
"This is a political problem. It needs a political solution. The Legislature has to do something about this," said Attorney Chris Mancini who represents the offenders and predators.
Mancini said putting them on the streets means nobody's watching.
"So when these guys get kicked out of here, they're going to be just like the people in Miami -- they're homeless. How does that help protect the public? It doesn't," he said. - Well, it will give Ron Book more business, and more reasons for him to ask others for more money!
CBS4 News spoke with one sexual predator living at the Mission. He doesn't know where he's going to go, but said "it's very, very dangerous" for the people of South Florida "to not have places like [the Saint Francis Mission]."