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Janesville man gets 35-year commitment for stabbing grandfather

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Jonah Beleckis
Wednesday, November 29, 2017

JANESVILLE—Gavin D. Roetteger self-reported hearing voices in his head that told him to hurt people.

At age 18, the diagnosed schizophrenic started believing it would be “cool” to kill people, according to a doctor's report read in Rock County Court on Wednesday by Assistant District Attorney Jerry Urbik.

Roetteger was 18 when he almost killed his grandfather David Fancher with a hunting knife in May 2016.

Judge James Daley said Roetteger's schizophrenia is not his fault. But on Wednesday, he ordered a 35-year commitment for Roetteger, who on Oct. 19 pleaded guilty by reason of mental disease or defect to attempted first-degree intentional homicide.

Daley's order is five years more than Urbik had recommended.

Roetteger's attorney, Ryan O'Hara, asked for seven to 10 years, which would have represented about a third of the soon-to-be 20-year-old's life.

Urbik argued Roetteger's age makes it a more serious case because he can more easily harm the elderly or children, which he has done. Roetteger has an “extensive psychiatric history,” including a 2014 commitment for punching his mother and physically throwing a 3-year-old nephew, Urbik said.

Roetteger in May 2016 was doing outpatient care, “which unfortunately was not sufficient to prevent this incident,” Urbik said.

Roetteger stabbed Fancher, who was 52 at the time, at the west-side Janesville house where he lived with his grandparents, according to court documents. Fancher had wounds near his heart, pancreas and kidney. His spleen and part of his stomach had to be removed.

Roetteger's 35-year commitment does not require him to stay in an institution—likely the Mendota Mental Health Institute in Madison—for the entire term. Rather, that is the amount of time Roetteger will be under some form of supervision.

“Now you can shorten that period, frankly, by the way you moderate your life,” Daley said to Roetteger. “But at least it satisfies me that there's enough time so that you no longer are a danger to the community.”

When he stabbed Fancher, Roetteger was at the “peak” of his mental illness and instability, O'Hara said.

Both sides—and Roetteger—agreed that Roetteger was not fit to be released into the community right away, but O'Hara pointed out his client has responded well to recent treatment.

Roetteger was unable to assist in his own defense for almost a year, O'Hara said, but he is now a “markedly different man.”

“Since he's been placed at Mendota, and since he was placed on different medications, he's very different,” O'Hara said. “We're able to have conversations, not just about his case, but about what he likes to do, what he wants to do in the future, his plans for when he gets out.”

Daley said Roetteger's future is in his own hands as he goes under the watch of the state Department of Health Services.

“You have something which has to be treated, and you have to make the decision that in fact that this is for the long haul,” Daley said. “You can get out of this thing by following the treatment regimen and taking the medications necessary.

“You're going to have help initially,” he said. “But for this thing to finally end, you have to show the community that you can follow the rules and take medication as required.”

“Yes, sir,” Roetteger responded.



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