A Sacramento judge today ignored the recommendations of state psychiatrists and refused to let a mentally ill killer out of Napa State Hospital.
Superior Court Judge Cheryl Chun Meegan said that Thomas Alvin Webster’s release could expose him to life stresses that would prompt a drug relapse. His methamphetamine use stirred the paranoid delusions that led to his unprovoked, fatal shooting of a young man in a Carmichael bar more than 20 years ago.
Doctors at Napa said Webster, now 55, has responded well to drug treatment programs within the confines of the state mental hospital, but the judge said the patient’s living outside a therapeutic setting “begs the question” of whether he would be able to avoid a relapse in a neighborhood group home.
“The reality is that he would, as an outpatient, have the ability to gain access to alcohol, the ability to gain access to drugs, obtain access to other contraband, which includes weapons,” Meegan said in her ruling from the bench. “In my view, at this juncture, based on the review of all the evidence, it does not support the conclusion that Mr. Webster has sufficient command of his emotions and judgment to be released.”
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The judge, in finding that Webster was not suitable for placement in the state’s Conditional Release Program, noted that he has continuously lost his temper and had fits of anger in the hospital.
“He’s been described as hostile, agitated, angry and frustrated, and his behavior toward staff over the years has included profanity, yelling, slamming the doors, pounding the walls and hand gestures,” Meegan said. “It’s true that any one of these instances taken alone may be subject to an interpretation that is more favorable to Mr. Webster. However, the mere number of them and the predominance in tone lead me to the conclusion he does have long-standing difficulty in handling stressful situations.”
After prolonged drug use, Webster was in a state of methamphetamine psychosis when he shot and killed Troy Allen Clower, 22, on Oct. 8, 1993. He was suffering auditory hallucinations and paranoid delusions and was in a bar on Marconi Avenue when he shot Clower because “he felt Troy was one of them, the people who read his mind,” a prosecutor’s brief said.
Found not guilty by reason of insanity in 1994, Webster was committed first to Atascadero State Hospital and transferred to Napa in 1997. He had twice previously petitioned, unsuccessfully, for his release to be placed in the state’s Conditional Release Program.
Clower’s mother, Corinne Summers, welcomed the judge’s ruling.
“We are extremely pleased that he is not going to be released out to hurt somebody else or kill another child,” said Summers, who was joined by more than a dozen friends and supporters in the courtroom.
Summers characterized as “crazy” the recommendation by the doctors from the Department of State Hospitals that Webster be released to live in a community group home in the Sacramento area.
“It’s absurd they can get away with it when they know full well these people are not ready to be out in the community again,” Summers said.
Under the law, Webster will be able to petition for his release again as soon as next year.
Summers said this was the third time she’s sat through Webster’s release hearings.
“It takes me right back to 20 years ago, to the night he shot Troy,” she said. “We can’t even – we’re not moving forward. This doesn’t allow us to get that full healing.”
Webster did not attend the ruling Friday, and his attorney, supervising Assistant Public Defender Joe Cress, declined to comment.
Deputy District Attorney Michelle Becker said in a written statement the judge’s ruling was “appropriate.”
“Past behavior is the best predictor of future behavior and his continuous volatility demonstrates that he remains a danger and cannot function safely in the community,” Becker said.
Webster’ release had been endorsed by the Harbor Medical Group, the Sacramento-based, state-contracted regional conditional release administrator.
Meegan, in her ruling Friday,
said there were gaps in some of the psychiatrists’ knowledge about Webster’s behavior during his 20 years in state mental hospitals because they focused only on his conduct in the limited time they treated him.
One psychiatrist, Dr. Robert Picker, testified of Webster, “I do not believe he represents a substantial danger if released into the community.”
In her ruling, Meegan said that in a report last April, Picker said that Webster “has exhibited two incidents of verbal altercations with peers over the past six months, but he is working with an individual therapist on anger management.”
“So even at the time of writing this report, they were aware of the outburst, and while conceivably they did not result in actual physical blows being brought, they again indicate and portray an individual who, while he may have made certain progress and exhibits commitment to change, still needs to, quote, internalize, the lessons he is being taught in a therapeutic situation,” the judge said.
A spokesman for the Department of State Hospitals said the agency would have no comment on the judge’s remarks.
The Webster petition is one of two that had been pending in Sacramento that were filed by killers who were found not guilty by reason of insanity.
In a ruling last week, Superior Court Judge David W. Abbott approved a recommendation by Napa psychiatrists to release Ronald Benjamin Toppila, who killed his mother in 2004 but, like Webster, was found not guilty by reason of insanity. Abbott on Jan. 17 ordered that Toppila be released within 10 days.
Toppila had not been released from Napa as of Friday, according to his lawyer, Robert Saria.