Throwing away the key
by Kelvin Wade
A trial ended late last year in Solano County, California. It was a trial to determine if a mentally disordered offender would be sent back to incarceration in Napa State Hospital or be released.
If a prisoner has served their sentence but meets six criteria, he or she may be placed in the Mentally Disordered Offender program. The program holds the prisoner in custody during their parole to undergo treatment and observation. After the inmate is paroled, he or she can still be civilly committed and held in custody if they’re still a danger to the public. The law is only applicable to inmates who committed their crimes after Jan. 1, 1986. Someone like Charles Manson would not be eligible for the program.
Even though the courts have upheld these types of laws, I used to believe them to be unfair. It seemed wrong to hold someone for crimes that they might commit in the future. This is the case that changed my mind. And it came with a personal twist.
One night in 1987, a 23-year-old man broke into a home in Vacaville, California and kidnapped a three-month-old baby from her crib. He carried the infant out into the backyard and threw the little girl over a six-foot fence.
He climbed over the fence and took the baby to a field close by and repeatedly sodomized the infant.
Around 4AM, the panic-stricken mother discovered her baby missing. A search party was hastily put together. Six hours later the baby was found half naked in that field, covered with ants and with dirt in her mouth. She was bloodied with a perforated abdomen but she was alive. She was taken to a hospital where she survived.
The perpetrator, Thomas Turner, was arrested and convicted. He was sentenced to 26 years in prison. After 15 years in prison he was determined to be mentally disordered and he was transferred to Atascadero State Hospital. He has since been classified as a mentally disordered offender and moved to Napa State Hospital.
He is awaiting another trial on charges that he made felony death threats while at Napa State. If convicted, he could be sentenced under the Three Strikes law.
According to published reports in local newspapers, at his last trial, the head psychiatrist at Napa State Hospital said Turner was “one of the most dangerous men in the world.”
His is a horrific case and it changed my mind about the MDO program. The case is awful enough on the face of it. Who is this Thomas Turner?
Thomas Turner was a buddy of mine in junior high. I don’t use the word friend because he didn’t seem to have friends. The Thomas I knew was a guy who wasn’t interested in schoolwork. He loved to drive teachers crazy with his class-disrupting antics.
I remember one time we both got kicked out of a class. We sat down at these picnic tables at school and started playing paper football. He didn’t worry about being in trouble. He had a devil-may-care attitude about his life. His motto appeared to be, “I don’t care.” I wish I could report some profound insight I had about him. But while he obviously was a troubled kid who would rather cut school and get high than go to class, I couldn’t see signs of the monster he was to become.
When I picked up the paper in 1987 and saw that the suspect arrested for the horrific kidnapping and rape of a baby was Tom, I was shocked. I mean, I knew other kids like Tom and they didn’t turn out the way he did. But then again, I realized, I didn’t really know Tom.
I didn’t know what kind of childhood he’d had or what had gone wrong in his brain to enable him to commit such a disgusting crime. Maybe he could’ve gone down a different path if someone had intervened when he was young. But it’s too late now and I leave the analysis to those who are trained in the field of psychology, psychiatry and the criminal mind.
California’s prisons are overcrowded. They’ve been so bad that a federal judge has had to oversee them. Sacramento recently put into place a program that returned low level offenders to county jails in order to ease the pressure of our crowded prison system. Some nonviolent criminals will see early release.
Even with all of that, I’m glad we still have an MDO program to keep the most vicious predators from preying on us. I hope that Tom and his ilk never walk the streets again.