Jury not needed in deputy hostage case

Judge rules Dickerson is sane

By Mike Heine/The Week

(Published Feb. 8, 2007, 10:38 a.m.)

(Reporter Mike Heine's report from the trial I Listen)

In order for Robbie S. Dickerson to be found mentally ill and thus not guilty of taking a Walworth County sheriff's deputy hostage last summer, two things needed to happen.

One, he needed to be diagnosed with a mental disease or defect.

Two, he needed that disease or defect to cause him to not understand the wrongfulness of his acts or be able to conform to the law.

He had one of the facets. Two doctors--a psychologist and a psychiatrist--both said Dickerson was suffering from varying degrees of depression. A third doctor opined that Dickerson was faking a mental illness.

He didn't meet the other requirement for the not guilty by insanity plea, Walworth County Judge Michael Gibbs decided Wednesday. In a rare judicial move, Gibbs found Dickerson sane, made a directed verdict and said the case need not go into jury deliberations. Dickerson, 26, of Delavan, will likely be sentenced to prison in mid-April.

"I do not see where there has been sufficient evidence on the second question that would allow a reasonable jury to believe and or find that Robbie Dickerson could not conform his conduct to the requirements of the law," Gibbs said. "There is no medical opinion (that says so). (The jury) would have to pull it out of thin air. They'd have to pull it out of sympathy, or prejudice or passion."

Dr. Deborah Collins, a court-appointed psychologist, testified Monday that Dickerson was suffering from depression on June 21, the night he took Deputy Cheryl Schmidt hostage at a home on North Walworth Road. She also said the depression did not prevent Dickerson from knowing right from wrong or conducting himself in legal ways.

A defense-hired psychiatrist, Dr. Patricia Jens, said Dickerson had been suffering from major depression, but could not make a medical opinion if it kept Dickerson from abiding by the law. She did think that Dickerson was able to "appreciate the wrongfulness of his conduct as he committed these crimes."

Defense attorney John Dade said he was disappointed by Gibbs' decision. He said there was evidence that is "directly on point" since Jens could not point to an overriding cause for Dickerson's inability to conform to the law.

"I thought we did present evidence that Robbie lost control of himself and was unable to control himself," Dade said. "We did prove that he had a mental disease."

Dickerson was admittedly drunk when he got into an argument with his wife, which led to police being called to the home.

District Attorney Phil Koss felt Gibbs made the right decision.

"It wasn't even close," Koss said. "Even their own (defense) doctor could not support the (insanity) plea."

Schmidt, who had her revolver taken from her by Dickerson as she tried to disarm him of a knife, declined to comment after the hearing.

She had a smile on her face when she and other deputies and police officers hugged immediately after Wednesday's hearing.

"On behalf of Deputy Cheryl Schmidt, the sheriff's department and all the other police agencies that responded to the incident in June, we are grateful that (Dickerson) will be held responsible for his actions," Undersheriff Kurt Picknell said.

Dickerson now faces more than 114 years in prison at his April 13 sentencing hearing. He earlier pleaded guilty to taking a hostage, disarming a police officer, battery to an officer, reckless endangerment and endangering safety by using a firearm, all felonies.

If he was found not guilty by reason of mental disease or defect, Dickerson could have been confined in a state mental institution for an indefinite period or released immediately.


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