Man not guilty by reason of insanity in mother's murder

Man not guilty by reason of insanity in mother's murder

URBANA — A mentally ill Champaign man who fatally stabbed his mother then set a fire to hide her death last spring has been acquitted of her murder.

Champaign County Judge Heidi Ladd on Friday found Terry J. Brownlee, 32, not guilty by reason of insanity of the April 12, 2013, murder of his mother, Sharon S. "Shirley" Brownlee, 61, of Urbana.

Mrs. Brownlee was found inside the burned-out efficiency apartment at 407 S. State St., C, where her son had been living. Her body was on a couch under blankets. An autopsy determined she had been stabbed to death.

Brownlee admitted to police he stabbed her after they argued at his home. He also admitted he set the fire that was reported about 6:10 a.m. that Friday.

Brownlee has been in custody on the murder and other charges — aggravated arson, residential arson and concealment of a homicidal death — since April 12.

He was first found unfit for trial in June and committed to the Department of Human Services for mental health treatment. In November, he was found fit for trial, meaning that he understands the charges against him and is capable of helping his lawyer with his defense.

The insanity finding means that Brownlee suffered from a mental disorder at the time of the crime that kept him from understanding that what he was doing was against the law.

Assistant State's Attorney Dan Clifton and Assistant Public Defenders Janie Miller-Jones and Lindsey Yanchus agreed that Ladd should consider, in advance of Friday's hearing, the police reports about the killing and fire and the "criminal responsibility" evaluation of Brownlee done by Champaign psychiatrist Lawrence Jeckel.

Jeckel's report detailed Brownlee's long-standing history of paranoid schizophrenia. He noted that Brownlee had attacked his mother more than once in the past and had even been found not guilty by reason of insanity for domestic battery involving her in 2011.

The doctor's report said Brownlee apparently stopped taking his medication for his schizophrenia in October 2012.

Ladd, who also acquitted Brownlee of the arson and concealment charges based on his insanity, set a review hearing for March 17.

She ordered that he be sent back to a secure mental institution for further treatment for a period not to exceed 60 years, the maximum sentence he could have received had he been found guilty of the murder. Even if Brownlee significantly improves, Ladd would have to approve his release back into the community.

Brownlee's father and four sisters were in the courtroom for Friday's hearing, which took about five minutes.

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