Killer will remain locked up

Judge criticizes McFarland

Gary Schmitt, who killed his father with a rock, then nearly killed two women with a knife, will remain locked up at McFarland Mental Health Center instead of being released to a Springfield group home, a circuit court judge has ruled.

In an order issued Friday, Effingham Circuit Court Judge Kimberly Koester ruled that Schmitt, who once served on the Troy School Board and worked as finance director for Catholic Social Services, remains risky, and she criticized the director of McFarland's conditional release program that would have overseen the defendant had she allowed him to live outside a locked setting.

The judge wrote that she had considered opinions of psychiatrists who had concluded that Schmitt could safely live in the community.

“However, a factor that this court find(s) as controlling is the defendant’s potential to be a danger to himself or others,” Koester wrote. “This court cannot conclude that after only six years of treatment that the defendant has shown that he would not benefit from in-patient treatment. Only further time with continued compliance and increasing privileges will we see if the defendant is truly in control of mental illness.”

Police were slow to realize they had a homicide on their hands when relatives found Schmitt’s father dead in the garage of his home in 2010 – at first, cops figured he might have fallen. An autopsy proved otherwise. The case was solved more than six months later, when Schmitt attacked a high school acquaintance whom he’d reconnected with on Facebook, then turned the hunting knife on the woman's daughter when she tried to intervene.

After attacking the woman and her daughter, he drove to his mother’s home, then turned himself in. During police questioning, he volunteered that he’d bludgeoned his father. God, he told police, had wanted him to kill the woman he’d looked up on Facebook; he said he was trying to spare his father the pain of terminal illness when he killed him with a rock. Schmitt had a history of mental illness that began in the 1980s. He was once convinced that his wife was putting poison in his coffee. In 2002, he drove his car into a bridge at 70 mph in a suicide attempt.

Within a year of being sent to McFarland in 2012 after being found not guilty by reason of insanity, Schmitt was allowed to walk the grounds without supervision. He was transferred to a minimum security unit in 2015 and has had supervised excursions in Springfield, including shopping trips. When he had heart surgery a few years ago, McFarland staff asked that he not be supervised at Memorial Medical Center, a request denied by Koester.

In 2017, McFarland staff recommended that Schmitt be released to a Springfield group home. Judge Koester said no. A renewed request was backed by two psychiatrists who said that Schmitt doesn’t need to be in McFarland. Again, Koester said no in her Friday ruling, in which she cited a report from Dr. Kasturi Kripakaran, a forensic psychiatrist at McFarland who had testified that Schmitt doesn’t need in-patient treatment.

"The court has had the benefit of handling this case from the beginning and has also seen the progress of the defendant with his treatment, including the specific testimony of Dr. Kripakaran that the defendant, Gary Schmitt, will never be cured," wrote Koester, using italics to emphasize her point.

In her order, Koester criticized testimony last month from Andy Jolly, director of McFarland's community conditional release program. Jolly during the September hearing had testified that buildings where clients in the program aren't secured, but residents are required to check in and check out. Jolly had also testified that residents were not considered to have "eloped" until six hours had passed or until other evidence was received. The maximum term in the residential program is five years. McFarland has authority to hold Schmitt, 55, until 2098.

"The court has concerns with the community release program that was described by Mr. Jolly," Koester wrote in her order. "Specifically, this court notes that the program seems not to have taken seriously the potential for danger that this individual possesses. Mr. Jolly even seemed to be offended at points in his testimony when he was questioned regarding the time necessary to report an individual that may have eloped from the program. The court did weigh this factor when considering the rehabilitation of the defendant and the safety of the public."

Neither McFarland officials nor attorneys connected with the case could immediately be reached for comment.

Contact Bruce Rushton at brushton@illinoistimes.com


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