SOMERSET, Ky. (WDRB) -- Months ago, Bob Williams closed down his cabinet shop in the friendly town of Somerset, in the heart of Kentucky, to take on a new full-time job.
It’s a job that’s not easy to talk about. In fact, his voice breaks when he admits it: his new full-time job is to prevent his son from killing someone.
"This is my own son,” he said, before a long pause during which he tried to stifle the tears welling in his eyes. "Parents shouldn't have to go through that. You shouldn't have to call the police on your own son."
His son, Trey, is 33 years old. When Trey was 18, he developed paranoid schizophrenia.
Since then, and especially during the last three years, Williams has faced a vicious cycle: his son will commit a violent crime, get arrested, be found mentally unfit to stand trial, but will be released back on the streets without serving prison time or getting sufficient mental health treatment to make him better.
Williams says he and his wife are the only firewall preventing their son from killing someone. He says systems the state has in place are failing them, their son, and other mentally ill defendants who fall into the same vicious cycle.
"As a parent, it's hard to say that about your son,” he said. "I've raised my family the best I could. I've loved my family. You know, why am I going through this?"
Williams says his son has had several violent outbursts over the past decade. One of bloodiest episodes happened at an apartment complex in downtown Somerset two years ago.
According to a report, Somerset Police officers were dispatched to possible stabbing at the Beecher House apartments around 6:30 on the night of August 31, 2017. When they arrived, they didn't find a stabbing. They found a very bloody woman who had been beaten with a “large wooden stick.”
"[My son] apparently hit this lady over the head with some kind of club that he'd made. She stumbled into the hallway. There was blood everywhere. Subsequently, she was taken to the hospital. Had either 40-something or 50-something stitches, and I was told that she had to kind of learn to walk again after that,” recalled Williams.
Police say after Trey threatened them with the club, he admitted to beating the woman, and he was arrested.
Williams says he was attacked by Trey later that year. According to Williams, Trey smashed the side of his face with a candlestick. Williams says he had to wrestle his son to the floor to subdue the bloody attack. He needed five staples to help heal the gash.
After that moment, Williams thought the worst.
“I thought he could kill somebody. I mean, I really thought he could kill me,” he said.
A vicious cycle
It’s hard for him to talk about, but Williams agreed to make his pain public to try to fix an alarming flaw in Kentucky's law: some violent, mentally ill defendants like his son are walking free.
He reached out after WDRB News exposed the problem earlier this year after an 8-year-old Louisville girl was beaten with a shovel and raped in her own backyard. Police said a stranger was the attacker.
Cane Madden, 30, was arrested and charged. According to court documents, Madden has a long criminal past and a history of mental illness. However, he’s walked free in the past — numerous times — because of the dangerous vicious cycle that continues to play out across Kentucky.
It’s the same vicious cycle affecting Williams and his son: one set of laws determines whether someone is competent to stand trial, while another addresses whether that person can be involuntarily hospitalized.
Judges in Kentucky must decide, based on psychiatric evaluations, whether a defendant can understand the charges against him and participate in his defense. If not, the defendant's charges are dropped and prosecutors then file paperwork to have the defendant hospitalized for treatment.
However, there are three separate criteria, in a state law known as KRS § 202A.026, determining whether a mentally ill patient can be involuntarily hospitalized:
• The person must be deemed a danger to himself or others
• The person can reasonably benefit from treatment; and
• Hospitalization is the least restrictive treatment available
If any one of those criteria is not met, at any time during treatment, the hospital is required by law to release the person.
Because of that law, prosecutors say some defendants — like Madden, Trey Williams, and numerous others across the state — are sometimes released within hours and without receiving proper mental help.
"It's just so hard to understand how somebody that's incompetent can just be released out onto the street, and you're hoping and praying that there's somebody to take care of them,” said Williams, whose son was recently released again. “There's not for these people.”
‘The biggest hole'
The man who was prosecuting the case against Trey Williams — until he had to dismiss it — is well aware of the problem. In fact, Commonwealth's Attorney Eddy Montgomery is working other cases just like it.
"I have at least four or five right now pending,” said Montgomery. "I would say this issue, to me, is the biggest hole we have in our criminal justice system right now."
One of those cases, still a source of bitter frustration to Montgomery, began early last year.
According to a Pulaski County report, in February 2018, an 18-year-old was driving his 12-year-old sister home on a particularly rainy night. They were headed down Ben Thompson Road, a rural route near the small town of Eubank, when a flooded portion of the road stopped them. As they began to turn around, the back windshield of their truck exploded. The 18-year-old driver ducked as a bullet pierced his headrest.
“[His sister] said she saw a male with a gun take aim at them and she told [him] causing him to lean over,” a deputy wrote in his report.
Danny Conley, 67, was arrested and charged, but he ultimately fell through the same loophole because of his mental illness. According to documents, Conley suffers from a severe “persecutory delusional disorder.”
"He's indicted by a grand jury: two counts of attempted murder, sent to [the Kentucky Correctional Psychiatric Center], found incompetent,” recalled Montgomery, who was forced to dismiss the charges after Conley was found mentally incompetent to stand trial. “We pursued our other avenues we could civilly, and he's immediately released by Eastern State Hospital after -- the judge ordered 360 days commitment -- and within 48 hours they wanted to let him out."
Court documents suggest Conley was released just two months ago.
“[Eastern State Hospital] does not deny the Defendant suffers from a severe mental health disorder,” the judge wrote in the order to release Conley. “[Eastern State Hospital] has twice now made the finding that the Defendant does not meet the criteria contained in KRS § 202A.026 for involuntary hospitalization because [Eastern State Hospital] feels the Defendant can receive meaningful treatment in a less restrictive setting.”
The judge concluded that he and the state “exhausted all options” to treat Conley and keep the public safe, so “based on the current state of Kentucky law as it applies to mentally ill Defendants,” he had no other option than release Conley.
"Clearly by the charges he was a danger, and he was in need of treatment, and now he's free,” Montgomery said.
After WDRB's investigations, the state is now studying how to end the vicious cycle — a cycle that allows mentally ill defendants to avoid both prison time and treatment. Montgomery hopes changes come before someone else becomes a victim.
However, he’s not holding his breath.
“My biggest fear is with some of these — the next school shooter might be out there,” he said bluntly.
Angry with God
Bob Williams, meanwhile, continues his now-full-time job of protecting the community from his adult son, Trey.
Williams and his wife visit Trey at his apartment often to make sure he’s doing okay, has food to eat, and is taking medicine to control his paranoid schizophrenia.
Williams can only imagine what would happen if he and his wife didn’t fill those roles.
"Right now, he'd be living on the street. He'd have no medicine. He'd have no kind of income. I mean, he would really have nothing. He would have been released from jail and have nothing. And eventually, his mind's going to break because he has no medication. And in my thinking, he'd end up trying to steal to get food or to get whatever. And whoever gets in between him and whatever he wants, God forbid, I mean he definitely could kill that person,” Williams said. “Could be your father, your brother, your mother, your sister. Could be your children. I mean, it's just not safe. It's not safe for him, and it's not safe for anybody else in the community."
Even a recent vacation to Disney World, during which Trey remained in Somerset, worried Williams.
Williams, a passionate Christian who regularly sings in his church choir, even questioned his faith because of Trey’s predicament.
“For a little over a year, when my son first had his break, God and I weren't on speaking terms,” he tearfully admitted. “I was angry. I didn't understand it, and I didn't understand why God wouldn't heal him — wouldn't bring him back.”
Williams quit praying.
“I just wouldn't talk to God. I was just like, 'Fine, you know, if you're not going to help me, I'm not going to do anything for you either,'" the father said.
But, months later, Williams came back to God — a God he now prays will guide Kentucky to change.
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