EDWARDSVILLE, Ill. (ABP) – An Illinois judge ruled Feb. 10 that a man accused of murdering a Southern Baptist preacher in his pulpit nearly three years ago is mentally unfit to stand trial.
Madison County Circuit Judge Richard Tognarelli said there is no substantial probability that Terry Joe Sedlacek’s mental capacity will change within a year, raising the likelihood that he will never stand trial for the March 8, 2009, slaying of Fred Winters, pastor of First Baptist Church in Maryville, Ill.
Under Illinois law, Sedlacek, 30, will now be turned over to a discharge hearing where he could be committed to the Department of Health and Human Services as mentally ill. The process involves the defendant’s ability to understand the charges against him and to assist in his own defense. His mental state at the time of the crime is a separate legal issue. If he ever regains sanity, the criminal case could be reopened.
Police say Sedlacek’s motive is a mystery and it is unknown if he had any connection with the 46-year-old pastor before he drove from his home in nearby Troy, Ill., entered the 1,000 seat sanctuary carrying a handgun and walked calmly down the aisle before opening fire during one of the church’s three Sunday-morning services. Winters died instantly when a bullet struck his heart.
As one gunshot struck the pastor’s Bible and caused paper to spread like confetti, some worshippers thought they were watching a skit. After firing four times, Sedlacek’s gun jammed and he pulled out a knife. Congregation members acted to subdue the shooter, probably saving other lives. During the scuffle Sedlacek stabbed his own neck, apparently trying to commit suicide.
Sedlacek has been treated with large doses of anti-psychotic medicines but still exhibits bizarre behaviors like barking, growling, laughing and making nonsensical noises, according to fitness reports quoted by media.
Bob Allen is managing editor of Associated Baptist Press.