SALT LAKE CITY (News4Utah) – A suspected killer could be released from custody and living next door.
Victor Herrera-Briones was charged with a 2006 murder but found incompetent to stand trial. Since 2007, he’s been treated at the state hospital but in March officials advised the court he is now considered stable but can no longer be treated and will be released.
Back in 2006, Herrera-Briones and the victim, Hugo Rosas-Pardo were co-workers. But according to his wife there was a dispute after Herrera-Briones sold a vehicle to their nephew. Jacquelyn Rosas claimed they finally came to an agreement.
“(Herrera-Briones) waited for me to leave and then called my husband,” recalled Rosas.
She later learned that the man accused of killing her husband was parked in their neighborhood.
“He tells my husband ‘you were right, I thought about it, I have the the $300 come outside and I’ll give it to you,'” Rosas said.
Rosas-Pardo came outside along with his son and cousin to meet Herrera-Briones.
“And then he got out of the truck and said ‘I told you I would kill you,’ and opened fire and he killed him,” said Rosas.
She said her husband was shot to death while their young son watched.
Herrera-Briones was charged with murder but was declared incompetent.
“I get that part (that he’s incompetent) of it,” she said. “But at the same time, this was a man who held a full time job. He had a family. He planned this.”
For her, justice has been on hold since 2007. Following treatment and a civil commitment, those at the state hospital still determined he was incompetent.
But in March, the state hospital advised the court he was no longer treatable and will be released.
“My concern is we have somebody under the allegations of having committed a murder who is being released into the community did not sit very well with us,” said Sim Gill, the Salt Lake District Attorney.
To assure he wasn’t released, prosecutors obtained a warrant for his arrest and he now at the Salt Lake County jail facing the original murder charges.
The superintendent of the state hospital said they advised the court of his possible release.
“We would never release a person from the hospital until the prosecutor or judge has said ‘you can proceed, we’re not taking this any further,'” said Dallas Ernshaw, the superintendent.
Ernshaw said they followed state guidelines in determining that Herrera-Briones is not treatable. “Substantial risk” to the community is among those guidelines the state hospital must consider before releasing a patient.
Ernshaw said Herrera-Briones no longer was considered a serious risk.
“We cannot legally keep the person here,” Ernshaw said. “They are free to go.”
The district attorney said their “risk” analysis is flawed because it was done in a secure environment and it doesn’t show what he’s capable of in public.
“It puts our community at risk and that’s something that we can’t tolerate,” Gill said.
But Ernshaw said Herrera-Briones was watched in settings at the state hospital that involved many people.
His possible release shocked Rosas.
“I had an anxiety attack,” Rosas said. “I still am uneasy, worried that he is going to get out and just walk the streets. Things fall through the cracks all the time. I feel like this case is falling through the cracks.”
Rosas is aware of what happened to Lonnie Johnson in 2012.
The accused sex offender was ruled to be incompetent but was released from the state hospital similar to Herrera-Briones. After several court hearings, Johnson was determined to still be incompetent and released to his family without ever going to trial.
Last week, prosecutors requested a new competency evaluation for Herrera-Briones. A judge wants to hear from both sides before making a decision.
Rosas is worried this could have the same outcome as the Lonnie Johnson case.
“No, you can’t do that,” said Rosas. “You don’t get to kill somebody and then go free.”
Rep Paul Ray, (R-Clearfield) said the public shouldn’t have to worry about the criminally insane.
“This isn’t right,” he said. “They shouldn’t have to keep going through this.”
Ray said he will sponsor legislation during the 2019 legislative session that will keep someone charged with a felony to remain at the state hospital until their mental health is restored.