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Appellate court rules on White Hen decapitator’s trip request

Updated: March 10, 2014 6:29AM



A trial court must reconsider whether a man who decapitated his White Hen Pantry co-worker in 1991 is well enough to take supervised trips outside the grounds of the mental health facility where he is in custody, an appeals court ruled Thursday.

Michael Bethke, of Calumet City, was 28 when he beheaded Joseph Lesinski Jr., of Burnham, while working at a White Hen Pantry in Burnham in June 1991. Bethke apparently wrote a word — one source said it was “repent” — on Lesinski’s forehead, the Chicago Sun-Times reported at the time.

In 1993, Bethke was found not guilty of first-degree murder by reason of insanity. He said he had experienced irresistible “command hallucinations” that forced him to kill Lesinski, according to court documents. Since then, Bethke has been in the custody of the Illinois Department of Human Services at the Elgin Mental Health Center.

In April 2012, Bethke’s treatment team sought to grant him off-grounds pass privileges, citing progress in his treatment and recovery. The privileges would allow him supervised visits to places such as the library or mall. However, the trial court denied the petition, saying it was not convinced “that he will not be a risk to himself and others if allowed into the general public.”

Bethke appealed the decision. In a ruling filed Thursday, the Illinois Appellate Court sent the case back to the trial court, claiming it must justify its ruling by elaborating on a “risk factor” it cited in denying the privileges.

Justice Terrence J. Lavin wrote the appellate court’s opinion, which states in part, “ ... the trial court denied the supervised off-grounds pass privileges almost exclusively because of the undeniably horrific nature of the original crime committed some 20 years ago while (Bethke) was not being treated for his psychiatric illness.”

“Suffice it to say that merely reciting the facts of the crime committed while mentally ill does not supply the trial court with ‘clear and convincing’ evidence that off-grounds privileges should not be granted,” the opinion reads.

The appellate court ruling sends the case back to the lower court but admits it is “unlikely” a trial court ultimately will allow the supervised visits.



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