A man charged 13 years ago with killing a prominent attorney and an insurance salesman will be evaluated again for competency to stand trial and to determine if he is committable to a mental institution.
Walter Shell, 84, has been in state custody since March 18, 1999. That’s the day police say he barged into the law office of John Goodin, a former city judge, 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.
Mental evaluations in the past have always indicated Shell is not competent to stand trial, but up until 2009 he was also considered a danger to himself or others.
That was enough to keep Shell in a mental facility. But in 2009, his psychiatrist changed his opinion and stated that while Shell remained incompetent, he was no longer a danger.
Judge Jerry Beck held a hearing Friday to discuss with the prosecutor and defense attorney what steps need to be taken in Shell’s case. Beck, acting on a 1972 U.S. Supreme Court opinion, said Shell can’t be held indefinitely.
“We’re running right up against the Supreme Court and you can’t run up against the Supreme Court,” Beck said.
The judge is trying to ensure Shell’s right to due process is not violated, but Tennessee doesn’t have a set amount of reasonable time a person can be held until they’re competent.
Case law from other states indicate that 10 years is “excessive,” he said.
Beck approved a joint agreement between District Attorney General Tony Clark and Shell’s appointed attorney, Randy Fallin, to have Shell re-evaluated by at least two doctors to address the competency issue again.
The result of those evaluations could be the final deciding factor in what happens with Shell. Beck said if he finds he can no longer hold Shell on the charges, there needs to be a facility that can handle him.
Fallin and Clark agreed on that point. Fallin said a Department of Corrections administrator in Nashville told him he could assist if that’s the situation after the evaluations.
Beck reset the case for June 11.
During the hearing, Clark told Beck he received an April 4 update on Shell’s medical and mental state. He said the report shows Shell suffers from dementia, Parkinson’s disease, vascular disease, hyperthyroidism, paranoia schizophrenia and has had multiple strokes. Shell is in the state corrections’ special needs facility in Nashville and was not transported to Jonesborough for Friday’s hearing.
Fallin and Clark said Shell was unable to make the trip due to his medical condition.
Clark has said he will do everything he can to keep Shell from being released.