When Richard D. Oberst was living in what he called the “dark period” of his life, he saw demons everywhere.
He stopped sleeping so he could read the Bible and pray all night.
He believed God told him he had to talk to a raccoon.
He thought he had healing hands, and he would walk up to strangers who looked sick and try to touch them to take away their illnesses, his lawyer, Mackenzie Renner, said at his sentencing Thursday.
“His mental illness was completely out of control leading up to this,” she said.
Oberst’s parents asked the judge for leniency. Through a letter, so did his sister. So did Renner.
And so did the victim in a case in which Oberst pleaded guilty to false imprisonment with use of a dangerous weapon, possessing a firearm as a felon and driving a vehicle without the owner’s consent.
Walworth County District Attorney Zeke Wiedenfeld sat next to the victim when she asked the judge to consider Oberst’s bipolar disorder diagnosis during sentencing. Wiedenfeld said what Oberst did was “terrifying,” and he deserved serious consequences.
Judge Phillip Koss agreed with the DA, pointing to Oberst’s “incredibly dangerous behavior.” This case—for a man who has been revoked from probation before—required prison.
Koss sentenced Oberst, 34, of Madison to four years in prison, four years of extended supervision and nine years of probation.
Several years in prison are in store for Oberst if he violates probation. He has 375 days of sentence credit for his time in the county jail.
Without the victim’s statements, the sentence could have been a lot worse. But even though many in the courtroom wanted probation, Koss said he had to worry about protecting the public that was “beyond that door.”
Prosecutors said Oberst in March 2018 held the victim at gunpoint and threatened to kill her—although she said she did not believe he was threatening her, and instead worried he would try to take his own life.
After the incident, Oberst took the victim’s car and used it to buy heroin, according to the criminal complaint.
The two most serious charges in the case—two counts of first-degree sexual assault—were dismissed and read in to the record as part of the plea agreement. Koss did not order Oberst to register as a sex offender as Wiedenfeld had requested.
All those who spoke Thursday in support of Oberst, including his doctor and the director of a homeless shelter where he had stayed, said it appeared Oberst was back in control of his life now that he was on proper medication.
Marko Pease, Oberst’s doctor with the Walworth County Department of Health and Human Services, met him in the jail when his psychosis had him “just totally not connected to the world in any way.”
“And once we got him on the right medications, you wouldn’t even know that he’s mentally ill,” Pease said. “I feel pretty confident to tell you that as long as he stays on these medications, that you’re gonna see the Richard that you see here in court.”
Renner said Oberst’s time in jail was “life-saving” because he finally got his hands around his mental health.
The victim said Oberst is empathetic, loving, hard-working and intelligent. He cared for her children—taking them on rides on horses and ATVs.
But with his mental illness, she said he was like a “stranger.”
“However, if everything was perfect, we wouldn’t be here, right?” she said.
She asked Koss to have an open heart to help Oberst begin his fresh start.
Speaking to the court, Oberst said he accepted full responsibility and apologized for his actions. Wiping his eyes, he said he saw the ripple effects he had on those around him.
“I look forward to the next chapter in life with what I consider to be a new beginning,” he said.