Mental health plea could mean Kyle Johnson is confined for the rest of his life, or maybe not, which worries victim's family
NOTE: This story is a complete version of the breaking news item we posted earlier today.
The Le Roy resident charged with murder in the shooting death of Norman "Don" Ball during the early morning of Dec. 1 entered a plea in Genesee County Court this afternoon of not guilty by reason of mental disease or defect.
District Attorney Lawrence Friedman told Interim Judge Micheal Pietruszka that two psychologists examined the 53-year-old defendant, Kyle G. Johnson, and both found that Johnson is dangerously mentally ill. One expert was hired by the defense and one by the prosecution. If the case had gone to trial, both would have testified about Johnson's mental condition.
Defense Attorney Jerry Ader told Pietruszka that at trial he would mount what is called an "affirmative defense" that his client was affected by mental illness that time the crime was committed. With the prosecution's own expert witness agreeing with the diagnoses, Friedman said the people would accept the plea.
Johnson was facing an eight-count indictment that included charges of murder, burglary, arson and attempted murder. Johnson the suspect in the shooting death of Ball, accused of entering his Selden Road neighbor's home and shooting him in the head while he slept, and then returning to his own residence and setting it on fire and then firing a Le Roy fire chief and a Le Roy police officer when they responded to the fire alarm.
There was then an hours-long stand-off with Johnson while he wandered around the area of his burning home, reportedly asking officers to shoot him, and a couple of moving times toward officers with his rifle cradled in his arms. Emergency response teams, with armored vehicles, from Genesee County and Monroe County swarmed the scene and Johnson, surrounded, eventually agreed to peacefully surrender to authorities.
After accepting Johnson's plea, Pietruszka ordered Johnson transferred to a state-run, secure mental health facility where he must undergo further evaluation to confirm the diagnoses. He will be evaluated either by two psychologists or a psychologist and a psychiatrist. The results of those exams will determine whether Johnson remains in a secure mental health facility or is moved to an in-patient facility or released. That decision will be based on whether he is found dangerously mentally ill, mentally ill or not mentally ill.
"We fully expect they will find him dangerously mentally ill," Friedman said.
In court, Friedman said that Johnson's mental health history, stretching back 11 years, was 400 pages long. He did not reveal what sort of mental health issues that Johnson may have been treated for, or if any of that record indicated anything about being a threat to himself or others.
Today's plea ends all further criminal prosecution of Johnson these charges, Friedman said, even if at some later date -- next week, next month, next year, or years from now -- he is deemed mentally healthy enough to return to society.
Pietruszka asked Johnson during the hearing if he understood that his plea could mean he would spend the rest of his life in a mental institution, and Johnson said yes.
Throughout all of Pietruszka's questions, Johnson made no statement beyond answering yes or no.
Friedman said with the plea, it's quite possible that Johnson will spend more time in confinement than if he had gone to trial, been found guilty and sentenced to prison.
Johnson will be taken to the Rochester Psychiatric Center and held there while undergoing exams. The staff has 30 days to complete a report, but a 30-day extension could be requested. Pietruszka did not want to schedule Johnson's next court appearance until the report is completed.
If the case had gone to trial, Johnson would face multiple ranges of potential prison terms, including a max of 40 years to life.
Outside of court, the children of Don Ball were not entirely happy with Johnson's plea and the fact that he will avoid prison, as well as a belief that the system failed by allowing Johnson to be free, and own a weapon, even before Dec. 1.
"We're not very happy that he's not going to be incarcerated, but we will all work very hard to ensure things like this don't happen again, where somebody like this is let out of a secure facility and then be able to be unsupervised in society," said Ryan Ball, standing with his sister Cherie Wesser, Shawan Gell. Jeanette Keating,
Ball also said he saw some benefit to Johnson receiving mental health treatment. He just doesn't trust that Johnson won't be released at some point.
"He needs help like that," Ball said. "He needs to be in a secure place. He's a dangerous person and he has been in and out for the past 11 years. Even though that has happened, he was let out by those people. Now he's in another secure facility. What are the chances that he will be let out again? It's as if they waited for something to happen. Now that something did happen, they're saying, 'well, maybe, he will be in for the rest of his life.' That's very upsetting."
Keating questioned whether the government is really doing a good enough job protecting the public from dangerously mentally ill people.
"If there were better policies and procedures in place for the mentally ill, then maybe our dad would still be here," Keating said. "The revolving door is upsetting -- to see somebody released, still having a mental defect, with just the hope that they will continue with their medication when there is no supervision."
Asked if they were concerned that Johnson had been able to obtain a firearm, Keating said, "absolutely."
"That was one of our first questions," she said. "How is it that he had a firearm?"
Ask if he felt the judicial system had let the Ball family down, Ryan didn't go that far.
"It's a failure at some point," Ball said. "I'm not sure what that point is, but I'm going to work hard to find out exactly where this failed. This guy has been known to be a dangerous and mentally ill person for a long time."
Friedman also seems to express some doubts about how Johnson obtained a firearm and was not better supervised.
"This (Johnson obtaining a firearm) is a very big concern, obviously," Friedman said. "Unfortunately, that is something that was not prevented in this case. We can talk about the possible failings of the system in the past that this happened, but this is just a tragedy."