Hucksteadt legally insane

WOODSTOCK – A McHenry County judge ruled Thursday that a 46-year-old Woodstock man was legally insane when he doused a mental health clinic receptionist with gasoline and set her on fire.

Judge Joseph Condon sent Lawrence Hucksteadt back to a secure facility while state mental health officials develop a report on an appropriate level of treatment. Condon and state officials will retain control of Hucksteadt’s treatment for a time period similar to that he would have served in prison if convicted of murder, heinous battery and aggravated arson.

A judge will determined whether he ever is moved to out-patient treatment.

“From my past experience, he will be in the custody of the Illinois Department of Human Services for a very long time,” said Hucksteadt’s attorney, Assistant Public Defender Christopher Harmon.

From the bench, Condon said he relied heavily on forensic psychiatrist Albert Stipes’ opinion that Hucksteadt was suffering from bipolar disorder and withdrawal from benzodiazepines during the July 16, 2004, incident. Stipes said Hucksteadt’s mental illness and the withdrawal from the tranquilizers left Hucksteadt unable to appreciate the criminal nature of his behavior.

Hucksteadt had been admitted to psychiatric wards 35 times between 1997 and 2004, Harmon said. Stipes, a defense witness, said Hucksteadt also received about 16 electroshock treatments and had overdosed or tried to kill himself more than 10 times.

After his arrest, Hucksteadt tried to commit suicide by jumping off the second-floor tier of the Kane County Jail and fractured his pelvis and hip, Stipes said.

Hucksteadt was hospitalized between July 7 and 13, 2004, because he reported jumping out a tree and wanting to blow people up, Harmon said. While he was hospitalized, he was administered two doses of a benzodiazepines, which Stipes said wasn’t enough to prevent withdrawal symptoms. Properly reducing doses of a benzodiazepines can take months, depending on the amount the patient had been taking, Stipes said.

After Hucksteadt was released July 13, 2004, he went back to the psychiatric ward and asked to be readmitted, partially so he could receive another electroshock treatment, Harmon said. Officials refused, telling him he was addicted to barbiturates, Harmon said.

About three days later, Hucksteadt walked into a mental health clinic in Woodstock carrying a lit cigarette and an open paint can full of gasoline. He tossed the gasoline on part-time receptionist Ellen Polivka, 69, and struck a match.

Polivka died about six weeks later.

Hucksteadt fled on foot but police soon took him into custody. Hucksteadt later told police that he was being chased by the person who set the fire and would have escaped if he didn’t have a bad ankle.

Prosecutors argued that Hucksteadt’s taped statement to police showed he did appreciate the criminality of his actions. Assistant State’s Attorney Michael Combs pointed to Hucksteadt’s comments about his bad ankle and that one police officer was playing “the bad cop.” Hucksteadt also provided a lucid discussion of his past interactions with police, Combs said.

“He knew exactly what he was doing,” Combs said. “That was premeditated.”

Combs also emphasized a psychologist’s report that found Hucksteadt was sane but exhibiting poor judgment and poor impulse control during the burning. Stipes said the psychologist, who doesn’t have a medical doctorate, could not appreciate the effect the drug withdrawal would have had on Hucksteadt.

Condon held a “discharge hearing” in the case, rather than a trial, because mental health officials determined they could not make Hucksteadt fit to stand trial. If Condon had found Hucksteadt “not not guilty,” state officials would have had more time to make him fit for trial. Condon also could have found him not guilty of the crime altogether.

The case is next due in court Jan. 14

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