August 11, 2009 in City

Insanity plea could get killer life in mental hospital

By The Spokesman-Review

In a rare court proceeding, a Spokane man was acquitted Tuesday of stabbing his cousin to death last year.

But that acquittal may require Adrian Wayne Ellenwood to remain in a mental hospital for the rest of his life.

Spokane County Superior Court Judge Maryann Moreno approved 35-year-old Ellenwood’s not-guilty plea by reason of insanity.

Ellenwood must remain at Eastern State Hospital until doctors determine he no longer poses a threat to himself or the public.

Witnesses told Spokane Police officers that Ellenwood had complained of head pain and was seen on May 28, 2008, rocking by himself on the porch of a home on the 1400 block of West Boone Avenue.

He then walked into the home and, unprovoked, fatally stabbed his cousin, 21-year-old Jacques Lee.

Detectives could find no motive for the killing and state doctors later determined that Ellenwood did not have the capacity to understand the consequences of his actions on that night, according to court testimony.

As a result, Deputy Spokane County Prosecutor Tony Hazel agreed with defense attorney Senit Lutgen’s request to allow Ellenwood to plead not guilty by reason of insanity to second-degree murder.

“It is a rare occurrence,” Hazel said. “In most cases, they remain in custody in a mental hospital for the rest of their lives.”

Lutgen said even if he won the case at trial, the state could have filed a civil motion to commit Ellenwood based on his mental illness.

“So, we get probably the same result,” he said. “At least this way, he will be getting treatment instead of sitting in a prison.”

According to court testimony, state doctors determined that Ellenwood’s mental capacity had improved enough after the stabbing that he could understand court proceedings.

In theory, Hazel said, Ellenwood’s mental illness could improve enough so that state doctors may someday determine him safe to himself and others.

If that happens, he would remain in supervised parole for the rest of his life.

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