MIAMI, OK District Judge Robert Haney refused to release a convicted murderer and career criminal Friday although he said a new state law requires him to do so. The judge's move could set up a challenge to the new law dealing with mentally incompetent criminals.
Under a state law effective April 1, Haney said he was required to dismiss criminal charges against Arthur Monroe Hevel, 33, of Miami and proceed with a civil commitment hearing.
Haney split his decision by dropping the criminal charges but refused to release Hevel back into society.
Hevel was 16 years old when he shot his stepgrandmother, Florence Downing, 78, of Jay, in the heart as she slept. He wiped fingerprints from the weapon, then fixed a bologna sandwich before fleeing the mobile home with $120 of Downing's money.
In 1989, Hevel pleaded guilty to a reduced charge of second-degree murder and was sentenced to 10 years to life in prison.
After the 20-minute hearing Friday, Haney said, "I am not real happy with it (the law), but the Legislature passed it (law) and we have to live with it.
The law cited by Haney results from an U.S. Supreme Court decision that says those held as incompetent for trial must be reviewed within a reasonable time. Oklahoma lawmakers put the limit at two years.
"These are some of the most dangerous people in the state of Oklahoma, said Assistant District Attorney Ben Loring, who fears that some of the 122 Oklahomans who are currently held as too incompetent to stand trial will be released into society while still dangerous.
Kenny Wright III, Hevel's public defender, said he requested a jury trial to determine his client's mental status.
"The judge has chosen not to give us a jury trial, so we are planning on an appeal, Wright said. "That will cause the higher courts to look at what the Legislature did by passing this law.
Wright said the appeal should cause the Legislature to possibly amend the law to allow the court to function more efficiently.
"It's a poorly written law," Wright said.
Haney ruled Hevel's mental status has not changed, he said. In the criminal cases, Hevel was found mentally ill and in need of treatment because he posed a danger to society, Wright said.
Hevel was recommitted to the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health.
Haney said orders written by the Department of Mental Health put the department in charge of releasing Hevel. On Friday, Haney ruled that Hevel could not be released unless the court is notified and a hearing scheduled.
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