Janesville47.3°

Secret home for Staskal?

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Mike DuPre'
June 24, 2008
— The state Department of Health and Family Services wants Rock County Judge Michael Byron to approve a conditional release plan for Mark Staskal without the judge or the public knowing exactly where Staskal will live.

The department apparently has not yet found a new home for Staskal, but it wants the judge to OK the plan without a specific placement.


The Janesville Gazette obtained information that the department’s proposed and confidential “final conditional release treatment plan” calls for a community placement in Dane County with no specific address listed and no specific housing provider named.


Staskal, 44, a former Milton resident, killed his younger sister, Marcy, in their Milton hone in 1984. Found not guilty by reason of mental disease, he was sent to Mendota Mental Health Institute in Madison.


But in 2007 Byron ordered him released conditionally.


Contacted by the Gazette, Marc McCrory—attorney for Staskals’ parents, Redgie and Melly Staskal—said:


“What I will tell Judge Byron is that this is an unconstitutional power grab by the Department of Health and Family Services to escape the role of the judiciary to approve these plans.


“The plan is set up to avoid public input. This is an attempt to get around government sunshine. We need notice.”


The law says the judge must notify the county sheriff and municipal police of such conditional releases, McCrory said, adding:


“You can’t notify the municipal police if you don’t know the municipality.”


Staskal’s attorney, Phillip Brehm of Janesville, said he did not know whether the law allows for an open-ended conditional release plan.


“My gut feeling is that (based on) the way the court responded previously, he (Byron) might not feel it necessary to have the concrete place, the actual place, designated,” Brehm said.


As for not notifying police, Brehm said the court could quietly notify authorities when a place for Staskal is found.


The Rock County District Attorney’s Office, which has argued against Staskal’s conditional release, declined to comment.


Staskal is due in court Wednesday, July 2.


Byron ordered Staskal’s conditional release in January 2007 despite the objections of his parents and psychiatric opinions that were divided on whether he should be returned to the community.


Staskal’s parents fear their son will kill again if released to a group home. They think Mendota’s environment—safe, secure, structured and professionally staffed and supervised—is best for their son.


Nevertheless, Byron ordered the health and family services department to develop a conditional release plan. One placement and another proposed placement have failed.


The first placement was to a group home in Eau Claire.


The Eau Claire group home didn’t work out for Staskal because he started having violent daydreams that his conditional-release team thought were caused by stress.


The team thought the daydreams could indicate that his mental condition was deteriorating.


Staskal did not break any rules or act out while he was in Eau Claire. He has lived at Mendota under minimum or super-minimum security for years and has complied with the mental hospital’s rules, according to court testimony.


But the daily psychiatric contact that his conditional-release team thought was necessary was not available to him in Eau Claire because he was not a voluntary resident there.


After the failure in Eau Claire, the health and family services department asked Byron to rescind his conditional-release order.


The department had tried 16 other group homes or facilities, but they all rejected Staskal, saying that he was either too big a risk or they did not have the appropriate treatment or expertise to accept him.


Byron did not relent.


He ordered Staskal returned to Mendota while another plan was developed and another placement found.


The health and family services department found a group home in Madison that was willing to take Staskal. But when the media reported the home’s address, neighbors and the public in general erupted in concern and protest, and the operator of the Madison group home backed out.


According to the latest plan, Staskal would continue to live at Mendota until the department finds a new home for him in Dane County.


When Byron OK’d the second placement, he said: “Mental-health issues are not like a common cold that can be cured overnight. There’s always a risk.”


He also noted that lawmakers and other, higher courts have decided that preserving or restoring a mentally ill person’s liberty justifies the risk to the person and the community.


The law doesn’t allow the court, lawyers or relatives to micromanage conditional-release plans, Byron said at the time.



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