Judge denies release of man acquitted by reason of insanity

 

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URBANA — An Urbana woman who thought she was going to die at the hands of a man who attacked her during a psychotic episode almost five years ago is greatly relieved that he won't be released into the community any time soon.

"That's huge," Patty Ebeling, 72, of Urbana, said of Champaign County Judge Heidi Ladd's recent ruling that will keep Aaron Munds, 44, in a secure mental-health setting.

Ladd found that Munds had not proven by "clear and convincing evidence" that he is no longer in need of inpatient mental-health services.

That means Munds — who dubbed himself the "Son of Satan" on March 17, 2014, as he tried to choke the life out of Ebeling — will have to stay at the McFarland Mental Health Center until he can persuade Ladd otherwise.

"There is no evidence about his potential danger if released, other than the opinion of the Department of Human Services staff that he has progressed as far as he can, that he is not currently a danger and that this is the next step. That is not sufficient ..." Ladd wrote in a seven-page ruling.

"She's a smart cookie," Ebeling said of the veteran jurist. "Underneath, he's a chameleon, and he tried to kill me. I applaud Judge Ladd. He's a ticking time bomb."

Although the judge did not use those words, her ruling suggested she agreed with Ebeling, one of two victims in Munds' attempted-murder and home-invasion case.

Also present that day at the rural Thomasboro home where Munds forced his way in was Ebeling's older sister, now 77, who suffers from serious dementia and needs constant care.

Ebeling was her caretaker the day Munds randomly chose the rural Thomasboro home where the women were to wreak his havoc. That included digging his thumbs into Ebeling's windpipe until she nearly lost consciousness, announcing that he was there to kill her.

Her older sister was able to distract Munds long enough to allow her to escape until sheriff's deputies arrived.

Three months after the attack, Munds was acquitted by reason of insanity of those serious felony charges and found to be in need of inpatient mental-health care.

Although he was acquitted, Ladd has control over his movement until 2039, which is the longest he could have been imprisoned had he been convicted of those charges.

Over time, she has granted him privileges such as more movement on the grounds of McFarland in Springfield and even leaving the grounds while accompanied by staff.

In early July 2018, Munds sought transfer to a non-secure group home in Champaign. The judge heard evidence Oct. 1 from DHS professionals that he had progressed as far as he could at McFarland. She said she needed time to consider her decision.

Following a News-Gazette story the next day about that hearing, Rosecrance, the behavioral-health agency that runs the group home where he wanted to go, abruptly rescinded its offer.

Munds' attorney, Champaign County Public Defender Janie Miller-Jones, then presented Ladd with more evidence about a placement available for Munds in a Springfield program. Ladd heard evidence about that on Nov. 14 before issuing her recent ruling.

The judge noted that the mental-health professionals agree that Munds must take his prescribed medication to maintain his stability. He had been hospitalized in 2013 for mental illnesses and prescribed medicine to help him but discontinued the medicine on his own, prior to his attack on Ebeling.

Ladd said she recognizes the "substantial progress" Munds has made at McFarland but said she heard nothing about how, if he's released to a group home, he would be monitored to make sure he takes the medication required to keep him stable.

She noted that one of his doctors said if he didn't take it, he would "deteriorate" in roughly two to four weeks.

"What does that mean? Would he give any warning signs of encroaching psychosis? What symptoms would be expected if he begins to deteriorate, how severe would they be and how quickly would they progress?" Ladd wrote. "The court is left to guess about one of the most critical aspects of assuring the safety of the defendant and others if defendant stopped following his treatment and taking his medication once he is released, something he has done in the past with devastating results for an innocent citizen."

While still clearly affected by the attack, the feisty Ebeling continues to be grateful that Munds went after her rather than her sister.

"Had he attacked her, she would have been dead. I was in it to win it," she said about her struggle against the younger, stronger man. "The bottom line is survival, and how dare him. He came to us. We didn't try to find him."

Reporter

Mary Schenk is a reporter covering police, courts and breaking news at The News-Gazette. Her email is mschenk@news-gazette.com, and you can follow her on Twitter (@schenk).