EDWARDSVILLE, Ill. (ABP) — A man accused of fatally shooting a Southern Baptist pastor inside an Illinois church in March has been found unfit to stand trial.
The decision handed down Oct. 20 followed a mental evaluation of Terry Sedlacek of Troy, Ill. He is accused of walking into First Baptist Church in Maryville, Ill., during a worship service March 8 and gunning down Pastor Fred Winters in the middle of his sermon.
According to local media, Madison County Circuit Judge Richard Tognarelli signed an order agreeing with a court-ordered psychologist that Sedlacek, 27, is schizophrenic and unlikely to be able to understand the legal proceedings or assist in his defense.
Robert Heilbronner, a licensed clinical psychologist based at Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill., said the suspect "is likely to provide his attorneys with inaccurate or illogical explanations" for his behavior. He also said the defendant would have problems following the process in a courtroom setting and listening to or understanding explanations provided to him and be unable to respond in a relevant manner during pleading or testimony.
Madison County public defender John Rekowski told the Associated Press the judge made "obviously the correct ruling."
"Terry is a very sick individual," Rekowski told St. Louis Public Radio. "He is not totally in touch with all the things he needs to be in touch with and doesn't totally understand what's going on."
Sedlacek will be evaluated within 30 days to determine if treatment will allow him to stand trial within a year.
Madison County's state's attorney Bill Mudge said if Sedlacek responds to treatment and eventually is deemed fit to go on trial, "the people of the state of Illinois stand ready to prosecute this case and seek justice for the victims, their families" and the church.
If he is unable to stand trial, Sedlacek could be committed to a mental institution for life.
First Baptist Church in Maryville released a statement supporting the legal process.
"One of the benefits and blessings to our country is our legal system, the foundations it was built upon, and the conviction that truth will prevail," the statement said. "We leave decisions, like the one of today, in its hands. We are not in a position to make determinations like the court is able. Our responsibility is to pray for those who make these decisions and for God to bring to light any and everything pertaining to the truth of what happened."
Still the congregation's statement continued, "Days like today can cause emotions to resurface reminding us of the unimaginable events that occurred on March 8."
"That day can either divide us, or serve to unite our hearts with intentional purpose," the congregation stated. "It is a reminder to us that many others have suffered similar tragedies and our desire for them is that we, the Church, would be able to bring them hope, grace, and encouragement, which we believe can only be fully discovered in a relationship with God."
The church recently called an interim pastor to fill in while a permanent successor to Winters is sought. Tom Hufty, vice president for collegiate affairs at Hannibal-LaGrange College in nearby Hannibal, Mo., began duties Oct. 11.
Associate pastors have managed the church the last seven months. Guest preachers have included Southern Baptist Convention president Johnny Hunt, SBC International Mission Board President Jerry Rankin and Nate Adams, executive director of the Illinois Baptist State Association.
Winters, 45, had been pastor of the Maryville congregation for 21 years. A search for his successor is expected to take up to two years.
Bob Allen is senior writer for Associated Baptist Press.