‘Guilty but Mentally Ill’ law unanimously moves forward

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OKLAHOMA CITY -- A bill that would allow a defendant to be found both guilty and mentally ill took a decisive step toward law Tuesday.

By a 41-0 vote, the state Senate passed a bill by Sen. Ron Sharp (R-Shawnee), sending it to the House for consideration.

"This bill targets those people who will never be treated, they just can’t be fixed," said Pottawatomie County District Attorney Richard Smothermon, who pushed lawmakers to take up the bill. "They kill people just to kill them. They hurt people just because they like to hurt people and those sorts of people. They don’t deserve to be in a mental hospital, they deserve to be in prison because they are the bad, bad people."

The December 2013 murder of Generro Sanchez, 18, sparked the conversation.

His killer, Jerrod Murray, admitted he offered Sanchez $20 to take him to Walmart. Once in the car, Murray held Sanchez at gunpoint, forcing him to drive to a rural road while Sanchez reportedly pleaded for his life.

Murray shot Sanchez in the head three times, killing him.

There was talk he could walk free.

Murray was acquitted after one psychiatrist wrote in his evaluation that Murray "does not presently meet the statutory criteria as being presently mental ill. While his index offense was of a violent nature, given that his mental condition is stable, he is not considered to be a present danger to the public."

"He committed a crime that he admitted to and he got away with it," said Jeana West, Sanchez's mother. "We have laws and we have standards that everybody has to live by. And for him to get not guilty after what he admitted he had done to my son was unacceptable to me."

Sharp's bill reads:

"If a person is found guilty with mental defect or enters such plea which is accepted by the court, the court at the time of sentencing shall impose any sentence that could be imposed by law upon a person who is convicted of the same offense, and the person shall serve the sentence in custody of a county jail or the Oklahoma Department of Corrections."

If a defendant is found guilty but mentally ill and receives probation as part of his or her sentence, the bill requires that person to undergo a mental evaluation.

If at any point the court finds a defendant to be no longer dangerous to the public, psychiatrists and a to-be-created Forensic Review Board will have the authority to review that decision and issue a ruling of their own.

A new law would not change the jury's decision in Murray's trial. But through what West calls a "gut-wrenching process," she and Smothermon have worked to ensure other parents won't have to endure the same roller coaster ride.

"This means that her son did not die in vain," said Smothermon. "This is for the Generro Sanchezes of the future. That’s why we’re doing it."