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Judge says this tragedy didn't have to happen.

Byline: Bill Bishop The Register-Guard

It cost Janet Marie Carter her life to get what she wanted: a way to ensure her mentally ill granddaughter is safe and cannot harm anyone else.

But it didn't have to be that way, a judge said Tuesday while sentencing the granddaughter, Jaime Ann Wilkinson, for killing Carter during a psychotic episode in Dec- ember.

"It could have been prevented," Lane County Circuit Judge Darryl Larson said in court.

Instead, Wilkinson, 21, slipped through the widening gaps of the mental health and law enforcement systems - never seemingly dangerous enough, never criminal enough to merit the scarce resources she needed, Larson said.

It's not that individuals failed, the judge said. The entire community failed, by denying tax support for mental health and criminal justice services that continue to erode, he said.

"It is meant to be an indictment of every single person in this community ... in this state. We can only do the jobs made available by the public. Those resources are not being made available in this county ... in this state," Larson said. "This event will happen again."

Certainly, not everyone gave up on Wilkinson.

Carter, for example, persisted. She once called Wilkinson's defense lawyer, Ilisa Rooke-Ley, with a plea to join her at the county mental health office because Wilkinson was in a crisis. Rooke-Ley recalled in court Tuesday how Carter and Wilkinson walked away with nothing more than a handful of pills.

The day she died, Dec. 2, Carter drove to a house Wilkinson and her mother shared. She had planned to take Wilkinson to see a probation officer who had tried to help Wilkinson in the past. But before they left the house, Wilkinson stabbed Carter in the heart and the neck, with the same emotion as someone handing another a pencil, Wilkinson's mother, Jennifer Wilkinson, said in court on Tuesday.

In a statement to the judge, Jennifer Wilkinson recounted how her daughter turned to illegal drugs for comfort when she was becoming delusional. She said her daughter's disease made the young woman unable to discern when she was sick, unable to know when she needed help.

"We kept getting the same doors shut in our faces," Jennifer Wilkinson told Larson. "I hope she gets the help all of our children deserve."

Jamie Wilkinson was on probation for harassing her mother, and was found mentally unfit when she violated probation early last year. She was hospitalized for treatment.

When she violated probation again by using street drugs and ignoring her probation officer, the district attorney's office declined to press the case under a once-only rule for charging probation violators. Wilkinson had violated the first time, and a judge had not taken away her probation and sent her to jail.

Because of a shortage of prosecutors, Lane County District Attorney Doug Harcleroad instated a policy that offenders get one chance at probation, and judges get one chance to put them back behind bars. Wilkinson's second misdemeanor probation violation came into the DA's office no different than 2,000 others in a year's time for which there would be no further action taken, Harcleroad said.

The policy, informally, exempted Wilkinson from supervision. It also exempted her from mental health evaluation and treatment if she needed it in order to come to court.

"That is what happens when your criminal justice system breaks down. It could happen again tomorrow," Harcleroad said.

Wilkinson's case is the worst example so far of senseless tragedy resulting from the one-shot limit on probation violations, he said.

Wilkins will be hospitalized under the control of the state Psychiatric Security Review Board for the rest of her life after being found guilty except for insanity in the murder of Carter, 72. The board may someday release her, if she is found to no longer present a danger.
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Title Annotation:Courts; The sentencing of a mentally ill murderer turns into an indictment of the system
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Aug 9, 2006
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