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Facility can’t meet conditions of Sacramento killer’s release, court is told

A transitional-living facility for violent, mentally ill offenders can’t meet a key condition on a killer’s release from Napa State Hospital, but a state agency responsible for his oversight still thinks the man can safely be placed in a Sacramento group home.

Instead of putting Ronald Benjamin Toppila in the Northstar Program in Manteca for three to four months, the Central Valley Conditional Release Program now wants to place him directly into one of two unlocked and unsecured Sacramento group homes. Program officials refused to identify the location of the homes because of patient confidentiality.

Disclosure of the hiccup in Toppila’s release came Monday amid a Sacramento Superior Court hearing on another killer, Thomas Alvin Webster, who also wants out of the Napa hospital where he was undergoing treatment. A Central Valley CONREP official has testified in Webster’s hearing that it plans to place him in a transitional facility similar to Northstar – and possibly Northstar itself – if a judge approves the killer’s release, as Napa psychiatrists recommended in testimony last week.

The twist in the Toppila case came as a jolt to the mother of Troy Allen Clower, the 22-year-old man Webster shot and killed in 1993. In separate cases, both Webster and Toppila were charged with murder, but found not guilty by reason of insanity and placed in the state mental hospital system.

“These people who are under these confined conditions in Napa State Hospital need some extra supervision when they get out, and if they’re going to be released directly into board-and-care where all they have to do is sign their name and walk out the door, that’s dangerous,” Clower’s mother, Corinne Summers, said in a courthouse hallway interview.

Toppila, 73, stabbed and bludgeoned his mother to death in 2004 in the midst of a paranoid psychotic delusion. Confined in Napa, he successfully petitioned earlier this year to be released.

At Toppila’s conditional release hearing, Rhonda Love, the community program director of the for-profit contractor that runs the Central Valley CONREP program for the Department of State Hospitals, testified that Toppila would initially be placed in the unlocked Northstar facility in Manteca.

Superior Court Judge David W. Abbott on Nov. 5 ordered the release, saying Toppila no longer presents a danger to the community. Abbott, however, placed six conditions on Toppila’s release, most significantly that he submit to monthly antipsychotic medication injections.

The judge also ordered that Toppila “have contact with a licensed clinical psychologist not less than once a week” and that he “have daily contact with a licensed clinical social worker.”

Northstar clinical director Bill Freitas in a Nov. 18 letter informed CONREP his program “cannot comply with the judge’s order” on the matters of the clinical psychologist and the social worker. Love then wrote a letter received by the court last week that “Mr. Toppila’s transition into the community would now be a direct placement into one of our structured board-and-care homes in the Sacramento area.”

Love, after her testimony Monday in Webster’s hearing, declined to comment on Toppila’s case.

In a written statement, a spokesman for the Department of State Hospitals said the agency “has been assured by the CONREP provider that it will abide by the terms dictated by the court.”

“If circumstances change that could affect CONREP’s ability to abide by those terms, CONREP will notify the court and provide an alternative plan for the court’s review,” the spokesman, Ken August, said in an email. “As with all CONREP cases, changes in any conditions or movement to a different living situation are subject to court review.”

As of Monday, Judge Abbott had not scheduled a new hearing on Toppila’s case.

Deputy District Attorney Donell Slivka, who had argued against Toppila’s release, said Monday, “We think this needs to go back before the court and determinations have to be made because conditions the court has established cannot be satisfied.”

At the hearing on Webster’s petition for release, Love testified last week, as she did at Toppila’s proceeding, that CONREP at first would place the admitted killer in one of three transitional living facilities.

If Judge Cheryl Chun Meegan approves Webster’s release, he would then be transferred a few months later to one of the two CONREP-monitored group homes.

Love did not say Monday where they are located, except that one is three miles from her offices at the Harper Medical Group at 9300 Tech Center Drive, near where Folsom Boulevard runs underneath U.S. Highway 50 and that the other is 15 miles away. Harper Medical Group is being paid $3.2 million this year to run the CONREP programs in the Central Valley and the San Jose area, according to the Department of State Hospitals.

Webster, now 55, was in a state of methamphetamine psychosis when he shot and killed Clower in a bar on Marconi Avenue 20 years ago. A Napa psychiatrist testified last week that Webster now participates in Narcotics Anonymous and Alcoholics Anonymous programs and is drug free and exhibiting no signs of psychosis.

If he’s released into a group home, he would regularly be allowed to leave the facility to take the bus and light rail without supervision, Love testified.

Love said under questioning from Deputy District Attorney Michelle Becker that she is aware Webster’s shooting of Clower directly resulted from his drug use, and she further testified she knew that Webster’s unescorted trips around town would give him the time and opportunity to obtain methamphetamine and other drugs.

Love also agreed it’s true that CONREP can’t guarantee it would be able to prevent Webster from getting drugs if he wanted them.

“That’s correct,” she testified.

Judge Meegan is expected to take the issue of Webster’s release under submission sometime this week.

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