Accused killer got 'break of his life' in '07
- Article by: JOY POWELL
- Star Tribune
- July 21, 2010 - 11:10 PM
Three years ago, a judge told Jonas Grice he was getting the "break of his life" with a sentence of 90 days in jail and two years on probation for a sex-crime conviction.
If he had gotten the tougher sentence that Scott County prosecutors wanted, he would have served four times as long in jail and still been on probation when he was arrested last week on suspicion of fatally shooting a young man at a Rosemount car wash.
Grice was convicted in 2007 of assaulting a girlfriend in Shakopee in August 2004. Prosecutors asked for a 58-month sentence with a year in jail and 46 months probation -- which the judge could have increased to as high as 15 years.
"You are one lucky devil," Judge Richard Spicer told Grice.
"It's a far cry from 58 months," he said. "Don't screw up this opportunity, OK?"
Scott County authorities were so displeased with the sentence that they appealed it at the state level.
Now Grice, 27, of Burnsville, is charged with repeatedly shooting Anthony Hartman, 22, at a Rosemount car wash on July 12 after an argument. They didn't know each other.
Would it have made a difference for Grice, who has paranoid schizophrenia and a history of psychosis and aggression, to have still been on probation? Some say it could have provided one more way for authorities to keep an eye on him.
"He would have been monitored, and someone would have been paying attention to what was going on with him -- and as it was, he was just on the loose, and there was no accountability anywhere," said Sue Wilkinson, mother of a schizophrenic son who assaulted two people, despite her warnings to authorities that her son was dangerous.
"This is about a tortuous system that needs to be opened up to some sunlight -- and policies and laws that need to be examined," Wilkinson said.
Said Dakota County Attorney James Backstrom: "Certainly, the Scott County attorney tried to do the right thing by assuring there was a felony-level conviction, which would have resulted in a longer term of probation, up to 15 years. And I would have appealed that sentence as well."
Scott County Attorney Patrick Ciliberto is out of the office this week and could not be reached for comment.
Grice's situation raises more questions than it answers, said his attorney, Rick Petry.
Petry said he doesn't know why Grice was released after a six-month civil commitment for mental illness, imposed by Dakota County authorities after Grice's hospitalizations in April 2005 and May 2005.
"I think he's been having issues all along," Petry said. "I don't think the conditions, or the state he's been in, had ever been resolved. Even if he's stabilized it doesn't mean that he's cured."
In 2007, his attorney for the sex crime, Robert Oleisky, noted that a pre-sentence investigation found Grice reluctant to stay on medication.
"I think it's really crucial for Jonas ... to stay on the meds because when he's off of it, things start to go to hell for him pretty quickly," Oleisky told Spicer during the sentencing hearing.
Grice was convicted of third-degree criminal sexual conduct, a gross misdemeanor. In sentencing him to a stayed one-year jail sentence, two years probation and 90 days in jail, Spicer took into account that Grice had schizophrenia, that he was treated for it and that he and his then-girlfriend had consensual sex before the sexual assault took place.
Scott County prosecutors appealed the sentence to the Minnesota Court of Appeals, arguing that Spicer improperly injected himself into the plea agreement process. Appellate judges disagreed and upheld the more lenient sentence.
Even if Grice had still been on probation, "It's very hard to predict the dangerousness of a mentally ill person," said Joe Daly, a Hamline law professor and former prosecutor.
Probation officers make sure a convict has a job, is paying bills and isn't using illicit drugs. And while they can try to ensure someone takes anti-psychotic medication ordered by a doctor, that would be unusual, Daly said.
"But they might have noticed him spiraling down," he said.
Sue Abderholden, executive director of the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill in Minnesota, said probation officers have huge caseloads and can't typically order blood tests to see if someone is taking medication.
"What you do is monitor symptoms," Abderholden said. "But even then, some people are able to kind of hide the symptoms."
If a probation or parole officer is not with the mentally ill person when symptoms arise, they could go unnoticed, Abderholden said.
"There's no assurance at all that being on probation would have made any difference," she said.
Grice is now in the Dakota County jail on second-degree murder charges -- and soon to appear before a grand jury for possible first-degree murder charges.
According to a complaint in Dakota County District Court, Hartman was sticking up for a friend when he approached Grice, argued with him and shoved him. Grice shoved back. Hartman fell, and Grice allegedly shot him three times as he lay on the ground.
Joy Powell • 952-882-9017 Staff writer Sarah Lemagie contributed to this report.
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