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The Justice Files: Guilty but mentally ill law being challenged

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SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4 Utah) – My brother is not well. That’s what Julie Brinkley claimed about her brother.

In 2017, her brother, Robert Liddiard was arrested for murdering his parents at their Holladay home.

He is facing two counts of aggravated murder but a competency has kept him in the state hospital.

Brinkley is in support of possible legislation that would create a defense for the mentally ill.

“When Rob committed this crime against our parents we kind of felt like we thought we had lost three people instead of two,” said Brinkley. “And that was heartbreaking for us.”

Back in 2017, the neighborhood saw police lights on their street near Kelly Lane in Holladay.

State lawmaker Carol Spackman Moss knew the family well.

“We were all in shock,” said Spackman Moss. “It traumatized the kids in the neighborhood, the teenagers.”

Their neighbor’s son Robert Liddiard was taking care of his elderly parents. But family members knew he had not been well for some time.

“When he committed his crime, he did it because he had a mental break because he had gone off his medication,” said Brinkley.

She said when her brother was jailed he didn’t receive any of his medications and his mental state worsened. After he was charged, his mental state became an issue and was committed to the state hospital in hopes of reversing that.

“His mind was not functioning well and he was placed in the mental hospital and the difference has been amazing,” said Brinkley.

The care at the state hospital has made Brinkley a believer in keeping the mentally ill there and not in a jail or prison.

That’s why she wants Utah’s law dealing with the mentally ill changed. Currently, they can be charged and once their mental health is restored they can be prosecuted.

“I would worry about what would happen to him,” she said. “I would worry that he wouldn’t get the medications that he needed or the treatment that he needed.”

Neighbor Spackman Moss is now championing that cause and seeking to change Utah’s law dealing with the mentally ill.

She said under current law, people like Liddiard can be sent to prison once his health is restored and he is found guilty.

“A true insanity defense would look at the mental state of the defendant and whether he or she actually knew what they did was wrong,” said the Holladay lawmaker. “It’s our contention that he didn’t know what he had done.”

She said someone who is mentally ill should be treated at the state hospital.
Spackman Moss is preparing legislation for the upcoming session that would allow a defendant to plead not guilty by reason of insanity.

Monday, the U.S. Supreme court heard this very same issue involving a case in Kansas. Utah joins Kansas, Idaho, and Montana as the only states in the nation that lack an insanity defense.

But whatever action the legislature takes, Salt Lake’s district attorney said funding is important.

“If we are going to put a band-aid because we are going from one methodology to another without funding it, without increasing our bed space, I would not support it,” said Sim Gill.

A former Utah County attorney testified before the House Judiciary Committee earlier this year and opposed the change.

“This not a minor change to the law this is a (big) change in the way we deal with the mentally ill and are accused of committing what are normally the most heinous offenses that we deal with as prosecutors,” said Jeff Buhmin. “My request is that we slow down.”

William Haynes with the Utah Attorney General’s office also opposes the bill. He said Ron Lafferty who is on death row could easily argue this defense and avoid the death penalty.

“He could argue mental illness and argue this defense,” said Haynes.

Until the legislature the U.S. Supreme Court decides the direction of the mentally ill in criminal cases, Liddiard will remain in the state hospital. Brinkley said he calls her brother on occasion.

“He’s got the realization of what he’s done now and he feels very sorrowful for it,” said Brinkley. “While he feels sorrowful for it, I don’t believe he entirely understands all the ramifications of the actions that he has taken.”

Brinkley said she doesn’t want this kind of law to release the mentally ill from the state hospital and back into neighborhoods.

“My brother needs to stay in the state hospital for the rest of his life,” she said. “It’s best for our community and best for our family.”

MORE THE JUSTICE FILES:

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