"Ike" was president, hula hoops were the rage and Elvis was king when Bernt Murphy, charged with raping a little girl, confessed to a murder two years before.
A judge will decide next month how and where Murphy, who is mentally retarded but was mistakenly ruled insane in 1957, will spend his court-ordered freedom after 32 years in the state mental hospital.His attorney says Murphy, 51, has the mental capacity of an 8-year-old and should fare well initially in a group home with other retarded adults. But his treatment supervisor says Murphy hasn't changed much and won't be happy outside Utah State Hospital in Provo.
"The Supreme Court has said the state hospital is not the right place for him. Personally, I think it is cruel to send him away after this many years. We have taken care of his needs, cared about him and loved him. It makes me a little sad to be required to kick him out," George Brinkerhoff said.
Murphy's treatment coordinator for the past seven years, Brinkerhoff is a member of a committee appointed by 3rd District Judge Pat Brian to make recommendations before the judge's Feb. 6 decision about Murphy's future.
The Utah Supreme Court ruled last June that Murphy, who has an IQ of 58, is mentally retarded, not insane, and thus must be released from the hospital.
The committee forwarded its recommendations to the judge this past week, and while he would provide no details, committee chairman Harold Blakelock said the suggestions were neither unanimous nor specific.
"We made it very clear that we as a commission were not able to predict the outcome of his release," Blakelock said.
Brinkerhoff said Murphy's personality has not changed much in the years he has been in the hospital, although physical problems have slowed him down.
"He has been told that being released is what he ought to want, but it is very frightening for him," he said. "Some days Bernt is excited to leave here and thinks he needs an apartment by himself, but other days he just wants everyone to leave him alone."
Murphy has no network of family or friends outside the hospital. "The problem I foresee is him running away and coming back to us," Brinkerhoff said.
As a teenager, Murphy had lived at the State Training School in American Fork, a facility for the mentally retarded, but was released in 1957. Blakelock said the school is not an alternative for Murphy now because the high court said he has the right to live in a community, not an institution.
The dilemma is an old one for Murphy. Vernon Houston, the director of the training school when Murphy attended, told reporters in 1957:
"There was no place in the state we could send him. Utah has no institutions for such people. Not here, not at the Industrial School. All we can do is release them to society and they remain there until they commit a crime, which sends them to the state prison."
In October 1957, W. Cleon Skousen, Salt Lake's police chief at the time, said Murphy had confessed to the murder of Jocelyn Hickenlooper, 23, during routine questioning after a 5-year-old girl identified him as the man who raped her in a park.
Murphy and the Hickenlooper woman had known each other as students at the training school. Skousen said Murphy told officers he had hitchhiked 35 miles from the school to Hickenlooper's home the morning of June 11, 1955, and had asked her to go on a walk with him. When she rejected his advances, he killed her by choking and then hitting her with a rock, Skousen said.
The body, its severed feet nearby, was found two weeks later in a shallow grave some 15 miles from the Hickenlooper home. The crime had gone unsolved until Murphy confessed.
But Murphy's current attorney, Brooke Wells, said there is little evidence linking Murphy to Hickenlooper. Had there been a trial before Murphy was declared insane, she said, there is a good chance he would have been acquitted.
"He was just a convenient suspect," she said.
The police investigation had come under fire from the beginning, with the mayor, Earl Glade, saying he was "embarrassed" by police fumbling. A month after the crime, police obtained a court order to exhume the body for hair samples to compare with hair found in a suspicious car.
But the test results were inconclusive because the samples were improperly packaged and arrived in a deteriorated state.
Wells said that after reading notes of the 1957 investigation, she was convinced that police interrogators had either suggested to Murphy that he was involved in the Hickenlooper slaying or had posed questions in such a way that the confused suspect just wanted to satisfy police with his answers.
Even today, Murphy sometimes speaks only in monosyllables, answering simply "yes" or "no" to questions requiring more elaboration, Wells said.
The lawyer said the years have not been kind to Murphy, who was a strapping 6-footer in 1957 and now appears as "kind of a withered, little person."
Although Brinkerhoff believes Murphy to be much the same man he was in 1957, he said he also can be "very caring and loving."
When there is a death in a family or a birthday at the hospital, Murphy alone among the residents always buys a card.