Sunday, July 20, 2003

Ex-mental patient faces hearing in death of mom

The Associated Press

CANTON, Ohio - A murder suspect has emerged from 14 years in a mental institution and now faces the prospect of a trial in the 1989 stabbing death of his mother.

Eric B. Skillern, 54, was committed to a mental institution after a judge dismissed a murder charge against him.

His caregivers now have decided that he is ready to re-enter society, putting him in position to go on trial.

A Stark County grand jury re-indicted Skillern on Thursday in the death of Laura A. Skillern, 65, who was stabbed June 30, 1989. Her body was found two days later in the Alliance home she shared with her son.

Skillern had claimed his mother was an impostor who worked for the CIA. The two also had argued about what to eat for dinner, investigators said.

The victim was beaten and stabbed in the face. Her body was found by a relative and police, who had to crawl through a window because Skillern refused to let anyone enter.

Skillern pleaded innocent by reason of insanity Friday and was sent to the Stark County Jail to await a pretrial hearing July 30 before Stark County Common Pleas Court Judge John G. Haas.

It's uncommon for prosecutors to be faced with the prospect of re-indicting someone after a civil commitment, said Chryssa Hartnett, senior assistant prosecuting attorney for the Stark County prosecutor's office.

The prosecutor's office considered public safety and the seriousness of Skillern's alleged actions in deciding to re-indict.

Prosecutors sought the indictment after learning last month that Skillern was about to be released from Northcoast Behavioral Healthcare in Northfield.

Skillern must have competency and sanity evaluations to determine if he is able to stand trial.

Hartnett said she anticipates Skillern will be deemed competent to stand trial this time.

If ruled competent, a judge or jury would determine if Skillern was sane when he allegedly killed his mother. If he's ruled insane, he probably would be recommitted to a mental hospital.

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