WAUKESHA, Wis. (AP) — Alan Randall may have been better off going to prison for killing two Wisconsin police officers in 1975. He might have been freed in his early 30s, with most of his life still ahead of him.
Instead, Randall likely will be discharged from a Madison hospital Friday as a 55-year-old who has spent his entire adult life in psychiatric institutions for a mental illness he never had.
At age 16, Randall ambushed two officers outside the tiny police station in his rural southeast Wisconsin town of Summit. He had robbed the station, and later told investigators that the officers’ arrival had startled him. Randall gunned down the two men, then drove off in their bloody, bullet-ridden squad car to commit another burglary before going home to bed.
Randall was tried as an adult and convicted of killing the officers, but during a second phase of the trial he was found not guilty by reason of insanity. Randall’s lawyers were prepared to introduce evidence that he was paranoid schizophrenic — evidence that has since been lost — but the prosecution allowed the claim to go unchallenged.
Randall was sent to a mental institution in northeastern Wisconsin, where doctors eventually concluded he wasn’t mentally ill. Randall never required anti-psychotic medication, and several experts said that likely means he was never paranoid schizophrenic, which is a treatable but incurable condition.
Randall asked to be freed in 1989 and his doctors testified that he presented little danger, but his lack of mental illness worked against him. If he had been sick at the time of the killings but successfully treated, he could have argued that the risk was gone. But if the cause of his violent behavior wasn’t a known mental illness, then the unknown homicidal trigger might still exist, the judge reasoned in denying the request.
The state Supreme Court upheld the decision on appeal, ruling that the state can keep a sane person committed to a psychiatric institution if it believes that person might become violent again.
Undeterred, Randall kept applying for his release, noting each time that doctors had given him a clean bill of health and that his good behavior had earned him privileges, including the opportunity to leave the facility during the day for a fulltime job at an art gallery.
His efforts were finally rewarded this spring, when a jury recommended that he should be freed. A judge was expected to sign off on his release Friday.
The widow and a sister of one of the officers Randall killed, Robert “Rocky” Atkins, said they’re resigned to Randall’s release but aren’t convinced he deserves it.
“Have I forgiven him? No. I haven’t forgiven him because he has not asked for forgiveness,” said Atkins’ sister, Diane Stojanovich. “… I have to admit I wonder: If he’s put in a corner would he ever do that again?”
Neither Randall nor his defense attorney responded to interview requests.
Bill Casper, who runs the Neenah gallery where Randall worked, described Randall as a gentle person who worked well with customers. He said Randall often expressed remorse about what he had done.
“Many times he said, ‘I’m really sorry and sad about my situation,'” Casper said. “He never once tried to say, ‘I was only a kid, I didn’t know what I was doing.’ He never tried to downplay what he did.”
Casper said Randall was miserable in the institution. While perfectly sane, Randall was surrounded by people who were seriously mentally ill. So he spent a lot of time with staff members, the only people with whom he could have normal conversations, or in a greenhouse where he could be alone, Casper said.
Because Randall was only 16 when he killed the officers, had he shown the same exemplary — not just good — behavior in prison that he did while he was committed, he might have been paroled in 17 to 20 years under the rules of the time, said Brad Schimel, the Waukesha County prosecutor currently handling Randall’s case. That means he could have been freed as early as 1992, when he would have been 34 years old.
Instead he has remained in an institution, where life has been a continuous challenge.
“The public might think it’s an easy life but I don’t think anyone would choose to be here,” said Greg Van Rybroek, the director of the Mendota Mental Health Institute where Randall is currently committed. “One would recognize that freedom is lost in coming here.”
Dinesh Ramde can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org