Experts: Larry Evans Jr. faces long stay in mental facility after verdict in murder trial
Treatment Need for new law? Time for healing
MANSFIELD -- Larry Evans Jr. probably won't leave a mental health facility anytime soon.
Evans, 40, was found not guilty by reason of insanity Tuesday for the Dec. 26 shooting deaths of his brother and his neighbor. He will be committed to the Timothy B. Moritz Forensic Unit, a maximum security psychiatric hospital in Columbus.
In six months, the court will receive a status report on Evans. The court then will revisit his case every two years.
Relatives of the victims -- Mansfield police Officer Brian Evans and Robert Houseman -- worry that Evans could be a free man in a relatively short time. If convicted, Evans would have faced the death penalty.
But according to one local expert, those like Larry Evans who are placed in psychiatric facilities usually serve terms very close to what they would have served in prison.
"The length of time they can be held is equal to the maximum sentence for the highest charge they would have faced," Richland County Mental Health & Recovery Services executive director Joe Trolian said. "Very rarely are people restored (to sanity) in six months. If that happens, that's a pretty good indicator something was missed."
The Moritz Forensic Unit, under the direction of the Ohio Department of Mental Health, has a capacity of 76.
"It's maximum security by any sense of the term," department hospitals deputy director James Ignelzi said.
Ignelzi explained the facility's role.
"With Larry, he's already been found insane," he said. "Our job is to treat him. He's committed to us, not sentenced to us."
Recommendations on the Evans case will be made by hospital officials.
"We work for the court," Ignelzi said. "The court has total control of this case."
Sandra Cannon, chief of the Office of Forensic Sciences for the state health department, elaborated.
"Larry will stay under the jurisdiction of the court for life," she said. "He will not be released until he is no longer a threat. The judge makes that decision.
"He might not (end up) in Moritz, but he'll be in a facility for a good long time."
Hospital officials would continue to monitor Evans if he is ever released.
"We really do try to balance public safety," Cannon said. "If he's a risk, we're not going to recommend him (for release)."
Only one-half of 1 percent of criminal cases involve people found not guilty by reason of insanity, Ignelzi said.
Trolian said it is much more common for people to be found incompetent to stand trial. They often can be restored to the point where they can help with their defense.
Evans was found competent to stand trial, but three doctors ruled he was insane the night of the shootings.
"They're basically taking a look back at the time of the crime," Trolian said. "Was the person in a position to determine right from wrong?"
Relatives of the victims lamented the ruling, saying Evans wouldn't be sufficiently punished.
Trolian said he could understand their feelings.
"I feel there should be a sentence included so you serve the minimum sentence in some type of restrictive facility," he said. "We're letting the mental illness completely excuse the action."
Ohio House Bill 299 would change that. Introduced in August 2007, the bill would establish a process for courts to order and community mental health boards to oversee the provision of assisted outpatient treatment.
Assisted outpatient treatment is a less restrictive alternative to involuntary hospital commitment. It's for people with mental illness who may not require hospitalization, but who don't adhere to voluntary outpatient treatment.
The proposal targets patients who have had multiple psychiatric hospitalizations and have histories of dangerous behavior.
"It would be more consistent with laws around the country," Trolian said. "Ohio is definitely behind the times."
Rep. Tom Patton, R-Strongsville, introduced the bill after a May 2007 incident in which Timothy Halton, who had a severe mental illness, shot and killed Cleveland Heights police Officer Jason West. Halton, who reportedly was known to be violent when off his medication, shot West with no provocation.
Mary Kay Pierce, executive director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, Richland County, is another backer of House Bill 299.
"There has to be a way we can get people help," she said. "These are brain disorders. They may not even realize how ill they are.
"I'd like to get people help when we know they need it. Under Ohio law, you can't make people get treatment unless they're a threat to themselves or others."
Pierce was in the courtroom Tuesday for Evans' trial. She saw the pain, anger and hurt that followed the verdict.
"There's so many families that are hurting right now," Pierce said. "The incidents that happened are devastating, not only to the immediate families, but to many individuals who know and loved both men who lost their lives."
Pierce knew Brian Evans, who went through National Alliance on Mental Illness crisis intervention training, and found him to be compassionate. She has talked to Trina Evans, Brian's widow, several times. Pierce said she is available to any of the families involved.
"We're only in the beginning stages of helping our community get through this," she said.