Criminal case ends for Daniel Bellard in Christine Gestrich shooting death

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Nico Savidge
Thursday, October 24, 2013

JANESVILLE—The criminal case against a town of Plymouth man charged with killing his neighbor in February officially came to an end Thursday morning in Rock County Court, with the chances he'll ever return to the justice system seeming dim.

Rock County Judge James Daley discharged 75-year-old Daniel Bellard from the case last week after a pair of doctors found he was not competent to stand trial for first-degree intentional homicide.

Bellard shot 59-year-old Christine Gestrich inside his barn on the morning of Feb. 6, then shot himself with the same gun twice, authorities said.

Doctors said injuries from those suicide attempts and the onset of dementia meant Bellard was not fit to proceed with the case, and that even with treatment he was not likely to become competent.

Daley sent Bellard to Mendota Mental Health Institute in Madison for treatment at the locked facility there last week.

Bellard appeared in court Thursday from Mendota, wheeled into view of a video conferencing system just after 8 a.m. for his final appearance on the criminal charge.

Besides a couple of coughs Bellard was silent during the hearing—as he was for every court appearance—and sat with IVs and breathing tubes visible.

Gestrich's family was not in the courtroom.

Prosecutors can reopen the case if Bellard regains competency, but that question is now out of their hands, District Attorney David O'Leary said.

With the criminal case over, Wednesday's hearing shifted into the mental health arena as officials sought to have Bellard committed for treatment at Mendota under state statutes.

Bellard's attorney, Robert Junig, asked that the hearing be closed to respect his client's medical privacy. At the conclusion of the criminal case, public access to the proceedings ceased.

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