A mentally retarded man will be released after 32 years in the Utah State Hospital when a district court judge determines how much freedom he should have in the community.
Third District Judge Pat B. Brian will hold a hearing Feb. 6 to determine the fate of Bernt Murphy, who was committed to the hospital in 1957 after he was found "not guilty by reason of insanity" in the rape of a 5-year-old girl.In June, the Utah Supreme Court ordered Murphy's release from the hospital, which the court called an inappropriate placement for a man who is retarded, but not insane. It ordered the district court to find an appropriate placement and noted that Murphy had spent more time in the state hospital than he would have in a corrective facility had he been convicted of the crime.
Brian will choose from three options presented by the Department of Social Services. Those options, the result of study by a panel of specialists, are expected to cost between $185,000 and $200,000. But the Supreme Court ruled that cost cannot be considered in the decision.
The state had argued against releasing Murphy from the hospital, contending he could be a danger to the community, himself and his attendants.
"The Supreme Court, when given the question, found no indication that he's dangerous," said Brooke C. Wells, Murphy's attorney. "My feeling is that the Supreme Court has made a ruling, and that's the definitive word on the subject."
"He has not been a model client," John Lesnan, program specialist in the Division of Mental Health, said. "It has been an ongoing series of events, not sporadic, that have convinced us he could be dangerous. His episodes have ranged from minor, like making threats, to very serious, like physical aggression that requires several people to restrain him."
Murphy, who was 19 at the time of his commitment, was first arrested for the 1957 rape and beating of a child. At that time, he confessed to the 1955 murder of Jocelyn Hickenlooper, a 23-year-old mentally retarded woman who had lived at the Utah State Training School during part of his five-year stay there. He later denied the killing, which had received a lot of media attention, contending that he just wanted the attention he got from the confession. He was found incompetent to stand trial for the murder and it was never officially solved.
Murphy had been released from the training school just before his arrest because he presented a danger to the staff, according to school officials at the time.
Reports by court-appointed psychologists in 1957 characterized Murphy as having "a low mentality, with personality disturbances, aggressive anti-social tendencies and some psychotic reaction."
Wells said that Murphy would be happier and better off in the community. "If the state finds an appropriate setting, it will be responsible for his well-being and after care, but that's a lot different for him than being part of the corrective system."
The man who has supervised Murphy's treatment at the state hospital for several years expressed concern about his reaction to leaving his longtime home in the forensic unit of the hospital.
"He's ambivalent right now, sometimes scared and sometimes excited," said George Brinkerhoff, who has been in charge of Murphy's treatment at the state hospital for the past few years. "No one knows how it will work until he tries it. His adjustment depends on what kind of placement is made. If he's with people who are really caring, he may do a lot better than I think he will."
"When you think about discharging a client, you ask yourself what kind of a program you'd place him in. I wouldn't place him in the community. He needs a highly structured, supervised setting. We don't have any small, secure facilities in the community. In effect, we'll be creating a mini-institution for Bernt," Lesnan said.
Judge has 3 options on where to put Murphy
-Place him in a house or apartment with around-the-clock supervision, in effect "transporting the hospital's forensic unit into the community." This is the state's first choice.
-Put him in a small group home with two or three other clients. The drawback would be the lack of monitoring during sleeping hours.
-Provide a semi-independent apartment setting with staff housed on both sides. That would involve buying camera monitors and alarms, and the Social Services Department considers it a "high risk."
Costs, depending on the option chosen, could range from $185,000 to $205,000, according to Social Services.