A judge will revisit on Friday the issue of continuing to confine a murder defendant if he is incompetent but not a danger to himself.
Walter Shell, 84, has been in state custody since March 18, 1999, after his arrest on two counts of first-degree murder. Johnson City police investigators said Shell barged into the West Walnut Street law office of John Goodin and gunned down the attorney and a client, Trey Kiser, who was meeting with Goodin.
Shell was apparently angry because he thought he was shorted $100,000 in his ex-wife’s will and blamed Goodin for it.
And although two district attorney generals have attempted over the years to get the case to trial, Shell’s mental status has prevented that.
Until two years ago, mental evaluation reports indicated Shell was incompetent to stand trial and he continued to be a danger to himself or others.
But in 2009, doctors at Lakeshore Mental Hospital filed a report indicating Shell, while still incompetent, was no longer a danger to anyone. That put the whole case into a quandary.
Shell’s attorney, Randy Falin, says his client should be released. District Attorney General Tony Clark says Shell needs to remain confined and Judge Jerry Beck wants to resolve the case in some manner.
Beck, a Sullivan County judge who has presided over the case, issued an order last week setting a status hearing. In that order, Beck indicates he will set a future hearing to determine what to do.
“The district attorney will be instructed to show cause why the defendant should not be released and the charges dismissed or if the district attorney intends to seek a civil commitment,” Beck wrote in the order.
Also, if Shell is released, Beck wants to know who will be able to provide for Shell, who is now quite frail.
Shell’s health has declined over the past several years to the point he’s housed at the Tennessee Department of Correction’s special needs facility in Nashville. He’s been there since September, according to Beck’s order.
Beck apparently moved to act on the case based on a 1972 Supreme Court ruling that said a defendant can’t be held indefinitely if they’re incompetent and there are no other mental or medical reasons to hold them.
Clark said he could ask for another mental evaluation or proceed with obtaining a civil commitment.
“From the state’s standpoint we’re going to do everything we can to make sure he’s kept in some type of secure facility,” Clark said. “I do not want to see him released.”