A state panel has approved the release of a Waconia man who fatally stabbed his parents 16 years ago, allowing him to move from a state hospital to a West St. Paul facility.

Richard Happ could be transferred from the Minnesota Security Hospital in St. Peter to the Twin Cities home as soon as next week — leading his cousin to plan to meet with him Sunday to urge him to stay out of Carver County.

"A lot of people in Waconia would be really scared if Richard showed up their front door," said Dean Stuewe, a first cousin who has stayed in touch with Happ but who opposed his release. "Richard is safer in St. Peter, and we think society is safer with him in St. Peter. He's got a history of recidivism."

Happ, now 46, fatally stabbed his parents, Richard H. and Angela, with a butcher knife in their Waconia home on March 24, 1999, and he also tried to kill his brother. Since then, Happ, who was diagnosed with schizophrenia, has been under indefinite commitment as mentally ill and dangerous. But the Minnesota Department of Human Services has sought to have him transferred to a less-secure facility — a move Carver County Attorney Mark Metz and Happ's family have repeatedly opposed.

On March 27, three district court judges appointed by the Minnesota Supreme Court to review Carver County's appeal of Happ's petition disagreed with Metz, saying that Happ has spent significant time unsupervised in the community without incident and that he "has demonstrated an ability to independently manage his symptoms … [and] is capable of making an acceptable adjustment to open society."

Happ already is allowed to leave the hospital unsupervised every day for four hours, visiting friends and even going to shows at the Chanhassen Dinner Theatres, Stuewe said. Now Metz, who had 15 days to appeal the decision, says he has no plans to appeal between now and Monday, which means that Happ could be transferred to the West St. Paul state-operated facility, which has four beds and 24-hour care, when a bed is available.

"We did the best we could and thought we made a persuasive argument," Metz said. "He still is having active delusions and is on one of the highest dosages. There is just too significant of a risk."

Opposing the release

Happ has told Metz and Stuewe that he won't go to Carver County, though it's not legally enforceable. Metz had sought to restrict Happ from the county, but the judicial appeal panel didn't include it in the conditions.

"We've been fighting this the whole way to no avail," Stuewe said. "Ultimately, I feel I've done my job to do the right thing with my family and the community."

The day Happ stabbed his parents in 1999, he tried to kill his younger brother, who was able to call police. When a deputy arrived, Happ lunged at the officer with the knife, broke the locked squad's window and drove off. Officers chased him and arrested him in the lot of a Lake Minnetonka restaurant.

"His words were he couldn't stop himself," Stuewe said of the killings

In 2000, a Carver County judge found Happ not guilty by reason of mental illness. In 2008, he was transferred to St. Peter's nonsecure campus because of his progress, and by 2012, he improved to the point where the Human Services Department petitioned for him to be allowed to leave the hospital.

Discharges of people indefinitely committed to the hospital as mentally ill and dangerous take place far more frequently than for those committed to the state's sex offender program.

A special review board — which acts independently from the Human Services Department — has to approve the petition. It did so in 2013 and sent it to Commissioner Lucinda Jesson, who approved it. Metz appealed the decision to the judicial appeal panel, which held two hearings on it in 2014.

"I don't want to hurt anybody again . … There isn't a day that goes by that I don't reflect on the damage I've done to my family," Happ said in an August hearing, adding about leaving St. Peter: "I want more liberties in my life. I would like to spend more time with my friends."

Still under supervision

Happ has said that he has learned to deal with hallucinations that can be triggered by something as simple as a scent and that he no longer suffers from the violent delusions he had when he killed his parents.

In last year's hearing, a court-appointed psychologist opposed Happ's release, saying then that he isn't in remission from schizophrenia and that he can't distinguish between reality and delusion, thinking, for instance, that he has trained with Navy SEALs. He noted that Happ had relapsed after being released from previous hospital commitments before the killings.

But Happ's psychologist and a forensic examiner who assessed his risk of future violence said Happ had significant insight into his mental illness, could manage risk factors and was at low risk for violence.

On March 27, the judicial appeal panel agreed.

"The court has ruled that this client meets the statutory criteria for provisional discharge," Deputy Commissioner Anne Barry said in a statement Thursday. "The Supreme Court Appeal Panel's order outlines multiple safeguards that will be taken to protect public safety."

Conditions include that Happ comply with prescribed medication, abstain from alcohol, and not possess any "dangerous instruments" such as knives and firearms. A county social worker is also assigned to monitor him.

"He's still going to be under intense strict supervision," Metz said. "We'll keep monitoring this case."

Stuewe just worries that the transfer will put Happ on track for future approvals, and he's skeptical that the Security Hospital has provided adequate treatment.

"My gripe isn't with him, but it's with the system," Stuewe said. "This is one step; the next step is less restrictive and less restrictive. He could theoretically show up at my front door — or anybody's."

Staff writer David Chanen contributed to this report. Kelly Smith • 612-673-4141