Insanity trial starts in police hostage case

Suspect says he's not mentally responsible for crimes

By Mike Heine/The Week

(Published Feb. 6, 2007, 10:38 a.m.)

There's no question that Robbie S. Dickerson took the gun of Walworth County Deputy Cheryl Schmidt and held her hostage the night of June 21, 2006. But was he mentally stable enough to know exactly what he was doing that night?

A jury has begun to look at that question at a mental competency trial that started Monday at the Walworth County Judicial Center.

Dickerson, 26, has pleaded guilty to five felonies--taking a hostage, disarming a police officer, battery to an officer, reckless endangerment and endangering safety by using a firearm--but maintains he is not criminally responsible for them because he was suffering from a mental disease or defect.

Opinions of two psychologists and a psychiatrist have differed, defense attorney John Dade said in his opening statement.

Dr. Deborah Collins, a court-appointed psychologist, testified that Dickerson was suffering from depression at the time of crimes, but said it did not prevent him from knowing right from wrong. The depression was more "incidental" in the case than it was a cause for what happened, she said.

"There is clear and ample evidence that he was aware of his surroundings and acted purposely within them," Collins said.

She added later, "His conduct then was purposeful and goal-directed rather than frenzied and out of control."

Dr. Robert H. Gordon, a state-appointed psychologist, agreed that Dickerson was suffering from a depressive disorder. He also said Dickerson was "malingering," or lying and making up a mental disease in order to avoid certain things.

Dickerson told Gordon he would often hear "whispering" voices in his head, Gordon testified.

A defense-hired psychiatrist is expected to testify Wednesday and say Dickerson was suffering from a mental disease and that it is "much less clear" whether he was aware of what he was doing, Dade said.

The defense needs to prove that Dickerson was suffering from a disease that caused him to not know right from wrong, District Attorney Phil Koss said. The prosecution need not prove anything, but will nonetheless show that Dickerson was acting sanely at the time of the crime, Koss said.

"The evidence will show you... while he made bad decisions, while life was tough for him at the time, he made decisions and he has to take responsibility for what he did and he did know right from wrong," Koss said.

Police officers at the scene are expected to testify and say Dickerson seemed sane both at the scene and afterward, Koss said in his opening statement. Police are likely to testify that Dickerson wanted Schmidt's bulletproof vest for his own protection, he told Schmidt he was afraid of going to prison for the rest of his life and that he later apologized to Schmidt at the sheriff's department.

"He's very aware of the consequences of his acts," Koss said.

Dickerson was admittedly drunk when he took Schmidt hostage, pointed her gun to her head and then fired at other officers who arrived at the multi-family house on North Walworth Road.

Dickerson and his wife, Gabrielle, had just been in an argument and the couple had been having numerous difficulties in the weeks and months prior to the incident, Dickerson told Collins.

The couple's two children had been taken from them by Walworth County Health and Human Services, Dickerson was paying child support to another woman for a child he fathered in Arizona, and there were allegations of infidelity by both Robbie and Gabrielle, Collins testified.

Robbie Dickerson was experiencing frequent anxiety attacks and was taking medication for them, Collins said.

If Dickerson is found sane, he faces up to 114 1/2 years in prison. If he is found to have had a mental disease, he could be sentenced to a state mental institution for an indefinite period of time or released.


Legal problems continued to mount for Robbie Dickerson, despite his incarceration since his arrest.

Dickerson and his wife Gabriella have been charged with multiple child neglect misdemeanors.

The couple faces three charges each for having deplorable living conditions for their three children, now ages 7, 5 and 2, according to a criminal complaint. A county health and human services worker reported a dirty home with human feces on the floor of several rooms.

Gabrielle, 28, faces a fourth charge for allegedly allowing the 2-year-old out of the house unattended. She told police she lost track of the child momentarily. A gas station neighboring the couple's home at 809 E. Geneva St., Delavan, reported the diaper-wearing toddler outside the front door of the station, according to the complaint.

The incidents were reported in April and May 2006. The charges were filed in mid-January.


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