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Opinion >  Column

Doug Clark: Releasing killer would be insanity

Coming to a neighborhood near you: A lunatic who once slashed the throat of an elderly woman, soaked her body in gasoline to throw off search dogs and then buried the remains in the victim’s flower garden. A mental asylum escapee who later nearly smashed the life out of a Spokane County sheriff’s deputy. The maniac in question is Phillip Arnold Paul, 35. He believes he’s now well enough to ease back into our community without a security guard tagging along. The craziest thing is that Eastern State Hospital officials support Paul’s request. Next week, a judge will be asked to let Paul - a chronic paranoid schizophrenic - loose for brief, unsupervised periods on a trial basis. The hospital has a lot of reasonable-sounding do’s and don’ts for Paul to follow. But if he behaves and doesn’t maim anyone, the powerfully built former wrestler could eventually be out and about for up to 14 days at a time. Not everyone thinks this is such a stellar idea. “He’s a murderer,” says Helen Mottley, whose elderly mother, Ruth, was butchered by Paul in 1987. “I don’t think I wake up a day and not think about what happened. What if he gets out and does it again?” “He’s so unpredictable,” agrees Roger Knight, the Spokane deputy that Paul viciously attacked after the inmate walked away from his Eastern State keepers in 1990. Knight nabbed Paul, who went passively to jail. As he was being booked, the 5-foot-8 man exploded. He punched Knight, picked up the 6-foot-4, 250-pound lawman and drove him into the floor. Knight, whose shoulder was permanently damaged, won a lawsuit against Eastern State over the incident. Paul “had me on the floor, beating my head into the concrete,” says Knight, who was saved by fellow deputies. “He damn near killed me.” Eastern State officials won’t comment for fear of violating Paul’s privacy. But in a Jan. 3 letter to Yakima County Judge Michael Leavitt, they say the patient now, “readily verbalizes his potential to harm others, and recognizes the key to preventing that from occurring is in successfully managing his mental illness.” Paul apparently is a perfect gentlemen - so long as he is injected twice a month with a powerful drug. But here’s the Catch-22: Paranoid schizophrenia often makes those it afflicts so delusional and suspicious they won’t take medication. The more unsupervised freedom Paul gets, the more chance this human time bomb could again blow with tragic consequences. “He’s the only paranoid schizophrenic - and I’ve seen hundreds, maybe thousands of them - that ever frightened me,” psychiatrist Frank Hardy testified in 1988. So-called professionals believed Paul could manage his personal demons in 1987, when he was released to his mother in Sunnyside, Wash. Within days, Paul strangled and all but beheaded his neighbor - Ruth Mottley, 78. The retired teacher had been honored as one of the state’s 100 most influential women. Paul told doctors he killed because voices jabbering in his head told him she was a witch. The brute was found not guilty by reason of insanity. He was committed to Eastern State for up to life. Because he is insane, Paul receives Social Security disability pay. Instead of reimbursing the state for his costly care, Paul’s checks pay private guards to escort him into Spokane for guitar, voice and art lessons, family visits and Alcoholics Anonymous meetings and dances. Granted a partial conditional release in 1993, Paul has visited the city over 35 times since last May. Now he wants to ditch the guards and inch his way to more and more freedom. But at what possible risk to the public? Yakima prosecutors intend to fight Paul’s request, which will be heard next Thursday. Cross your fingers and pray Judge Leavitt turns a deaf ear on this killer’s looney tune.

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