Man not guilty by reason of insanity in cousin's shooting
URBANA — In a brief 18-minute court hearing, a Kansas man was found not guilty of murder by reason of insanity for the 2011 shooting of his cousin.
Champaign County Circuit Judge Heidi Ladd ruled that while 69-year-old Gerard James shot and killed Harlan James, a prominent Champaign resident, the evidence was "clear and convincing" that Gerard James was too mentally ill at the time to appreciate "the criminality of his conduct."
Ladd ordered that Gerard James be transferred to the custody of the Illinois Department of Human Services, held in a "secure setting" and given a mental health evaluation. She scheduled a Dec. 20 hearing to re-evaluate his mental condition and status.
Ladd ruled in what is known as a "stipulated bench trial," a proceeding in which both the prosecution and defense agree in advance on what the evidence would show. She based her insanity ruling on a report prepared by Dr. Lawrence Jeckel, a Champaign psychiatrist.
After examining Gerard James, Jeckel said he suffered from a "delusional disorder" marked by paranoid feelings of fear that he and his brother, Alan James of Champaign, shared about their cousin, Harlan James.
The shooting occurred in a corn field near Mahomet in the mid-afternoon of Oct. 7, 2011, when Harlan James stopped by the field to say hello to his cousins, Gerard and Alan, who were harvesting their crops. When Harlan James approached Gerard James in his truck, Gerard James pulled a handgun and shot Harlan James in the chest.
It was clear from the start that the defense would invoke a mental illness defense.
Defense lawyer James Martinkus retained Jeckel to examine his client and, ultimately, prosecutors agreed with Jeckel's assessment. Then both sides agreed that the case would be best resolved with a result that was predetermined — not guilty by reason of insanity.
The verdict was no surprise to Harlan James wife's Cynthia, who was in the courtroom to watch the proceedings.
"I knew what was going to happen," she said.
Nonetheless, Mrs. James said she wanted her Gerard James "sent to prison" and said that lawyers working on her behalf will file a wrongful-death lawsuit against him.
"When he shot Harlan, he shot me," Mrs. James said.
She recalled that before her husband was killed, she had suffered a near-fatal illness and that Harlan James had told her that "if something happens to you, my life is over."
"That's exactly how I feel," she said.
According to Jeckel's report, Gerard James, a slight, bespectacled man who holds a doctoral degree, and his brother, Champaign resident Alan James, shared a paranoid delusion that Harlan James was a serial killer who had marked them for death.
"He and Jerry felt very threatened by Harlan because they believed he had been stalking them for the last few years," Jeckel wrote in his report.
Harlan James was a prominent Champaign-Urbana businessman, area manager for AT&T before his retirement and an active participant in many community activities including the United Way.
On the day Harlan James was killed, he and his wife were preparing to travel to Florida, where they lived during the winter. Mrs. James said Mr. James had picked the flowers from around their house, and, because burning is prohibited in Champaign, took them out to a rural area for burning. The location of the "burn pile" was adjacent to the field where Gerard and Alan James were working.
Seeing Harlan James drive by only fueled the brothers' paranoid fears and, both heavily armed, the men were prepared when Harlan James stopped by.
"Clearly, my brother was targeted," Alan James said, according to court documents.
After the shooting, Alan James called 911 and reported that the well-known "desperado" Harlan James had been shot and killed.
When police interviewed Gerard and Alan James, both men told authorities of long-standing bad blood between them and Harlan James, a comment Jeckel said was driven by their irrational fear of his intentions.
Harlan James' wife said neither she nor her husband was aware of any ill will and that her husband had not seen Gerard James — a Lawrence, Kan., resident who only visited Champaign County for the spring planting and fall harvest — in a long time.
As for Alan James, Mrs. James said she and her husband's only recent contact with him was a couple of years ago when he sent a gift of fresh honey to them.