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Friday, May 26, 2017

Homicidal Schizophrenics: Individual Rights Versus Public Safety

     In February 2009, Joseph Hagerman III, a diagnosed paranoid schizophrenic, stopped taking his antipsychotic medication. He had stopped taking his medicine twice in the past and had experienced psychotic episodes. This time, however, he decapitated his 5-year-old son and injured his wife who tried in vain to protect the boy.

     Following his arrest, Hagerman, in a jailhouse interview with a local TV reporter, said he had killed his son because he believed the boy had become the antichrist.

     A few months after the homicide, a jury in Virginia Beach, Virginia found the defendant not guilty by reason of insanity. Under Virginia law, this meant that Hagerman would be sent to a mental institution instead of prison. He would remain at the hospital until his doctors, and a judge, declared him sane enough to rejoin society.

     In late 2016, doctors at the Eastern State Hospital in Williamsburg, Virginia, recommended to the court that Joseph Hagerman be granted conditional release from the institution. According to the psychiatrist, this patient, over the past few years, had been given 48-hour passes that had not caused any problems. He had been, according to the hospital staff, a model patient.

     A Virginia circuit judge, acting upon the psychiatric recommendation, ordered that Mr. Hagerman be given two independent mental health evaluations.

     On May 9, 2017, following the testimony of two psychiatrists and Mr. Hagerman's father, the judge ordered the patient's conditional release from the hospital. Pursuant to this decree, Mr. Hagerman was required to live at an adult foster care facility during the week. On weekends, he was allowed to reside with his parents.

     Under the judge's order, Mr. Hagerman would also receive periodic visits from social workers and psychiatrists who would check to make sure he was still taking his antipsychotic medication.

    At the conclusion of the sanity hearing, Mr. Hagerman's sister told a local television correspondent that, "I just want to let the community know that my brother is a very loving, generous, Christian man. He had a wonderful family, and it was an unfortunate incident. [Italics mine.] Everyone needs to get educated on mental illness."

     The fact that a child had died because his mentally ill father, for the third time, had stopped taking his medication, was perhaps cause for concern. Compassion for the mentally ill is all well and good, but so is the need to protect people who will, knowingly and unknowingly, cross this man's path. One doesn't need to be highly educated on the subject of mental illness to know that the behavior of a homicidal schizophrenic is extremely unpredictable. 

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