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Conditional release for Staskal stands

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Mike DuPre'
December 19, 2007
— Mark Staskal didn’t act out or threaten anyone.

He didn’t break any rules.


But Staskal started having violent daydreams that his conditional release team thought were triggered by stress. The daydreams could indicate that Staskal’s mental state was deteriorating and required daily monitoring by a psychiatric professional, several people testified at a court hearing Wednesday.


Such daily contact was not available to Staskal in Eau Claire because he was not a voluntary resident there, the witnesses said, so the Wisconsin Department of Health and Family Services moved Staskal back to Mendota Mental Health Institute in Madison.


The department asked Rock County Judge Michael Byron to revoke the conditional release he ordered for Staskal in January.


On Wednesday, Byron stuck to his original decision.


He refused to revoke Staskal’s conditional release because, he said, the state had not proved any of the three conditions necessary to rescind the decision: that Staskal had broken rules or that he presented a danger to himself or others.


But the judge also decided not to order that Staskal be returned to the Eau Claire group home where he had been living.


Byron told Glenn Larson of the health and family services department to develop a new conditional release plan that would address the concerns raised by Staskal’s brief stay at the group home.


Larson said such a plan would be developed within 60 days. Byron is expected to review the plan in another open hearing.


Staskal had lived at Mendota since he was found not guilty by reason of mental disease of the murder of his sister, Marcy, in 1984.


Staskal stabbed her to death at their Milton home.


Since Byron ordered Staskal’s conditional release, 16 group homes or other facilities rejected his placement until The Bernice & Genevieve Foundation in Eau Claire accepted him.


During the 10 days he was there in November, Staskal started having daydreams in which he saw people practicing witchcraft and Satanic worship that included killing dogs and “good politicians” and raping children, testified Robert T. Shaw, counselor/therapist for Heinz Psychological Services in Eau Claire.


In the daydreams, Staskal was an observer or investigator, not a participant, Shaw said.


Staskal thought death was the appropriate way to deal with the Satan worshippers in his dreams, but he didn’t see himself as an executioner, Shaw said.


Shaw thought Staskal was able to differentiate the daydreams from reality. Staskal said he had no compulsion to act on the dreams, Shaw testified.


But knowing Staskal’s background, Shaw said he thought the daydreams indicated stress that needed clinical attention, including daily monitoring by a mental health professional to ensure his condition doesn’t worsen.


Sherry Deyoe, a probation agent assigned to Staskal, said the Eau Claire County Community Support Program offers such a service but refused it to Staskal because he was not a voluntary resident there.


She also testified that the group home staff did not include a psychiatrist or anyone with enough psychiatric expertise to effectively monitor Staskal’s mental state.


“That these thoughts were of a violent nature was significant because he was not having them at Mendota,” Deyoe testified.


She repeated parts of a log in which she recorded that the alarming, violent nature of the thoughts and daydreams was upsetting and that the daydreams were triggered by a stressful setting for which Staskal was not prepared.


Since returning to Mendota, where daily psychiatric monitoring is available, Staskal has not had the daydreams, Deyoe said.


Dr. Brad Smith, a psychiatrist at Mendota, said it was significant that Staskal was experiencing new symptoms. Staskal could decompensate—relapse to psychosis—rapidly, Smith said, but decompensation typically is a progressive process.


Smith also testified that Staskal was “very much motivated to do well and make a good transition.”


Any move probably will stress Staskal, and publicity and public outcry will follow any placement, said his attorney, Phillip Brehm of Janesville.


“It’s better to deal with it now rather than procrastinate,” Brehm said in asking Byron to return Staskal to Eau Claire.


But Byron noted that he does not manage the Department of Health and Family Services. That agency has responsibility for Staskal’s health and welfare and reported a problem in Eau Claire, the judge said.


“If DHFS feels an amendment (daily psychiatric monitoring) to the plan is needed, they have to develop it,” Byron said. “I can only review what they submit to me. Mr. Larson was pretty clear on what the requirements should be. So develop a plan.”


Violent daydreams prompted Staskal’s removal

During the 10 days Mark Staskal was in Eau Claire in November, he started having daydreams in which he saw people practicing witchcraft and Satanic worship that included killing dogs and "good politicians" and raping children, testified Robert T. Shaw, counselor/therapist for Heinz Psychological Services in Eau Claire.


In the daydreams, Staskal was an observer or investigator, not a participant, Shaw said.


Staskal thought death was the appropriate way to deal with the Satan worshippers in his dreams, but he didn’t see himself as an executioner, Shaw said.


Shaw thought Staskal was able to differentiate the daydreams from reality. Staskal said he had no compulsion to act on the dreams, Shaw testified.


But knowing Staskal’s background, Shaw said he thought the daydreams indicated stress that needed clinical attention, including daily monitoring by a mental health professional to ensure his condition doesn’t worsen.


—Reporter Frank Schultz contributed to this story.

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