Genesee County DA's office, victim's family to fight petition to transfer mentally ill killer to less-secure facility
The Genesee County District Attorney’s Office and the family of murder victim Norman D. “Don” Ball vehemently oppose an application that would permit Kyle Johnson to be moved from a secure mental health facility in Orange County to a non-secure facility.
Johnson (photo at right), in December of 2016, was committed to the Mid-Hudson Forensic Psychiatric Center in New Hampton after being found not responsible by reason of mental disease or defect of murder.
It was a year earlier, on Dec. 1, 2015, when Johnson shot the 69-year-old Ball to death while he was sleeping at his Selden Road, Le Roy residence.
Johnson then returned to his own home, set it on fire and then fired shots at a Le Roy fire chief and Le Roy police officer when they responded to the fire alarm. Following an hours-long standoff -- during which Johnson reportedly asked officers to shoot him and threatened officers with a rifle in his arms – the perpetrator surrendered peacefully to authorities.
These actions led District Attorney Lawrence Friedman to file an eight-count indictment against Johnson that included charges of murder, burglary, arson and attempted murder.
In the end, Johnson was evaluated by a pair of psychologists – one hired by the prosecution and the other hired by the defense – and it was determined that he was not guilty by reason of mental illness or defect.
Tentative court date set for April 29
Three years and four months later, officials at Mid-Hudson Forensic Psychiatric Center are petitioning Orange County Supreme Court to allow Johnson to be transferred to a non-secure facility. A tentative date of April 29 has been set by the court to ensure the matter stays on the court’s calendar.
Assistant District Attorney Diane LaVallee, who has been assigned to the case, on Tuesday said the Genesee County DA’s office is against the proposed transfer considering the severity of the crimes committed and the timing of such a move.
“For someone to go from, so obviously, terribly dangerously mentally ill to not being dangerously mentally ill after three years of services … this is hard to believe,” LaVallee said. “I think that everyone expected that this was going to happen someday but no one, including Mr. Friedman, would have ever believed that it would be this quickly. It’s very, very soon.”
LaVallee, with 35 years’ experience as a prosecutor, joined the Genesee County DA’s office recently. She previously served as deputy chief of Special Investigations and Prosecutions Unit of the NYS Attorney General’s Office and, before that, chief of the Attorney General’s Capital Assistance to Prosecutors Unit.
She said her office is taking all steps necessary to ensure that Johnson, who was 53 at the time of the murder, stays in a secure mental health facility.
DA's office to seek psychiatric exam
“The DA’s office can be a party to this even though this is a civil proceeding, but we obviously are an interested party, so we have given our notice of appearance and expressed our opposition to such a transfer at this time,” she said. “We’ve been actively going through the process of getting another psychiatrist to conduct an examination of him and we have received the (confidential) medical records.”
LaVallee added that Genesee Justice has drafted a letter seeking information about Johnson’s mental state that would be helpful to the court in deciding whether or not Johnson remains dangerously mentally ill. Those interested in responding to this call for information are asked to contact Rosanne DeMare at Genesee Justice, LaVallee said.
“What we’re looking for is information that would be relevant to whether he currently suffers from a dangerous mental illness,” LaVallee explained. “Relevant information would include information that people might have relating to statements that he may have made about his mental illness or his current capacity.”
Continuing, she said that sometimes patients in these facilities will still correspond with individuals (from the area where the crimes were committed).
“Just as importantly, the horrendous incident itself isn’t that long ago," she said. "So, one of the arguments we expect to make … is that it’s just too soon. The brutal murder of one individual and shooting at other responders at the scene; by nature, you’re not going to be cured of your dangerousness within this short a period of time.”
Victim's son says system is partly to blame
Ball’s son, Ryan, 41, on Wednesday said he is “completely against” a possible transfer and said the system failed society by not locking Johnson up prior to the murder.
“It’s unprecedented how fast this is happening. It’s not even the norm that somebody would be set free or healed in that amount of time,” Ryan said. “I think it’s a danger to society to allow that. And the whole reason that he did this in the first place is because he was not put away after doing several things. He should have been put away before this ever happened.”
Ryan said that Johnson’s history includes holding his own family at gunpoint and “nothing was done about it.”
“He (Johnson) is notorious for not taking his medication,” he said. “I don’t like the fact that he got away on a not guilty by reason of insanity; I do not agree with that. It would have been an uphill battle from what doctors were saying (that Johnson was mentally ill). Sane or not, you know right from wrong. You should be able to be prosecuted.”
Ryan also said he believes the proposed transfer has more to do with a lack of bed space at facilities such as the one in Orange County.
“While I’m glad they’re (the DA’s office) going to battle to keep him in there, I don’t believe it has anything to do with him being healed or any saner, but more about not having enough facilities to handle people,” he said. “That’s my personal opinion.”
Ryan lives with his wife and children on the Selden Road property in a new home that he built (after tearing down the old one). He has three sisters, Cherie (Craig) Wessel of Le Roy, Jeanette Keating of Spencerport and Shawna (Ken) Geil of Spencerport.
'Too soon and a lack of bed space'
His mother, Carol Rider, and her husband, John, said Friedman assured them at the time of the verdict that Johnson “wouldn’t see the light of day for many, many years.” This new development, however, has them worried.
“It has only been three years," Carol said. "They’re going to have a hearing to put him in a minimum-security facility and the next step after that is ‘good-bye.’ And that’s mostly because of lack of bed space.”
“We feel the community needs to know what is going on and have a chance to give their input,” John added.
LaVallee said she wasn’t sure where Johnson would end up should the court rule in his favor to be transferred, but it could be the Rochester Psychiatric Center.
“Hypothetically, someone admitted to a less secure facility would be put into a lockdown unit with certain conditions put on him,” she said. “As he shows his ability to be not dangerous or (ability to be) compliant, then he’ll be given more freedom but also with more conditions. Eventually, yes, the goal is that he’s back in society.”
She said that some people can be rehabilitated and not be a threat to society, but “we don’t want to create a vigilante-type of atmosphere either.”
“He (Johnson) has got to be able to live safely wherever he ends up living,” she said. “This, hopefully, will be years and years down the line, but whenever it happens we want to weigh the understandable grief and outrage of the victim’s family with his own safety as well.”
An administrator at the Mid-Hudson Forensic Psychiatric Center said “probably not” when asked if someone would be available to comment on the facility’s petition to the court, mentioned a media contact and then hung up the phone.