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Back to Home > Columnists > Thursday, Dec 12, 2002
Posted on Thu, Dec. 12, 2002 An insane way to treat crazies
Linroy Bottoson was not much bothered when the governor signed his death warrant. He believed himself a special prophet from God, blessed with magical powers, impervious to the executioner’s needle. Besides, he was convinced that the governor would become one of his disciples.
Bottoson, of course, was mad. He was executed Monday for the 1979 murder of a woman whom, according to one of the state’s own psychiatrists, he had planned to raise from the dead.
His case had been seen by death-penalty opponents as a failure of the state’s judicial system. His young, inexperienced trial lawyer had not alerted jurors to Bottoson’s well-documented history of acute psychiatric problems.
Bottoson had been diagnosed with schizophrenia in 1962, after he attempted suicide in a church. Bottoson, also borderline retarded, had been pressed into his mother’s street corner ministry at age 7. His mental illness, filled with religious delusions and violence, had manifested itself long before the bloody murder of an Eatonville postmistress 23 years ago.
But there was nothing inconsistent with Florida executing the itinerant preacher. An insanity defense rarely works in Florida. And mental illness itself has becomes tantamount to a crime in this state. The Florida Sheriffs Association reports that the state’s jails and prisons are holding five times more acutely mentally ill inmates than the state’s psychiatric hospitals.
3 DAYS AND OUT
Florida is no better now at dealing with the mentally disturbed than it was when crazy Linroy Bottoson was roaming the state, spouting Scripture and contemplating murder. The limitations of the state’s Baker Act mandates that most patients brought in for ”crisis intervention” are discharged after three days, well or not. Thousands are sent back to wander the streets, or to get tossed into jail for crimes that are often a manifestation of their illness. Between 800 and 1,200 mentally ill inmates are locked up at any time in Miami-Dade County jail cells.
Sometimes, after their abbreviated treatment, they emerge a threat to others. Last year, after Ron Morgan’s parents had him committed under the Baker Act, he left after a 72-hour crisis intervention and returned to his Pembroke Pines home still haunted by his paranoid delusions. Ten days later, he picked up an aluminum baseball bat and killed his father.
Much more often, the deluded become the victims. In Miami-Dade County since 1999, 10 people in the throes of psychotic episodes have been killed in confrontations with policemen.
TIME FOR REFORM
The sheriffs’ association points out that Florida law officers handle more Baker Act cases a day — about 100 — than burglaries. The association and a wide range of law enforcement and judicial officials want to change the Baker Act to allow intervention before a mentally ill person reaches that strict legal definition of “an immediate danger to himself or others.”
Reformers don’t want police officers to be forced to wait until after a crime has been committed to intervene.
The reformers want to loosen the 72-hour limit for patients who have been repeatedly committed under the Baker Act.
They want to end a shameful relationship this state has nurtured between mental illness and jail, homelessness, misery and even death.