02/09/2005

Mentally Ill Man Admits Killing Calif. Officer

Also Read This PoliceOne Exclusive Report:
Five S.M.A.R.T. Tips for Approaching The Emotionally-Disturbed
by Contributing Editor Scott Buhrmaster

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By Greg Moran, San Diego Union Tribune

A 39-year-old man with a lengthy history of mental illness, mental retardation and criminal convictions has pleaded guilty to running down and killing a San Diego police officer 20 months ago.

Kevin Gerard Williams, who has spent most of his life in and out of jails, prison and hospitals, will spend the rest of his life behind bars under terms of a plea agreement reached Monday.

Williams pleaded guilty to second-degree murder of a police officer in the line of duty, said prosecutor David Hendren. Williams was accused of murdering Terry Bennett, a decorated and popular San Diego police motorcycle officer, on June 26, 2003, by running him over with a stolen truck.

The second-degree charge also includes the allegation that Williams used a deadly weapon – the pickup – and so carries a mandatory prison sentence of life without the possibility of parole.

Williams also was charged initially with the special circumstance of murdering a police officer, which made him eligible for the death penalty. District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis had not yet made a decision on whether to seek that penalty, but Williams' mental problems made it unlikely.

The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that states cannot execute the mentally retarded.

Tests on Williams over the years have strongly indicated he is mentally retarded. On three previous occasions when Williams was charged with lesser crimes, courts have found him to be so, Hendren said.

"This is someone who has a two-decade-long history of mental retardation (findings)," the prosecutor said. Williams also has been found to suffer from a variety of mental illnesses, including schizophrenia.

The guilty plea means Williams will receive the same maximum sentence he would have had he gone to trial and been convicted, Hendren said.

"We had to make sure we had a resolution that protected the community, and make sure this guy never hurt anyone again," he said. "We wanted to make sure he was held fully accountable for his crimes. We were able to do all that."

Hendren said Bennett's family is supportive of the decision.

On Oct. 25, a judge found Williams competent to stand trial. Soon afterward, his lawyer, Richard Gates, entered a plea of not guilty by reason of insanity. Then, earlier this year, two court-appointed psychiatrists found that Williams was legally sane at the time of the killing, Gates said.

Gates said the findings made it unlikely Williams would have been found insane had the case gone to trial. He said the plea gives prosecutors what they wanted and spares everyone a lengthy trial. "We understand the highly-charged nature of this case," he said.

Bennett was killed during a chase through the streets of Encanto. Williams, who had stolen a truck from a downtown construction site and was driving erratically, slammed into several cars during the chase.

On Iona Street, Williams abruptly made a U-turn, pointed the truck toward the pursuing officer and ran him down, witnesses said.

Williams was arrested a few minutes later.

Sentencing is scheduled for March 14.

PoliceOne Exclusive Report:
Five S.M.A.R.T. Tips for Approaching The Emotionally-Disturbed


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