For a while, Nick Monostory and Thomas Gergen were next-door neighbors at a Washington State hospital’s ward for the criminally insane. Though they shared a hallway, and similar diagnoses, they experienced vastly different fates in the mental health and criminal courts system, says the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Thirty-three years ago, Monostory came home late one night and knocked a neighbor down, killing her, after she asked him to simmer down. He was found not guilty by reason of insanity. Now 62, he’s still there — long past any likely sentence he would have received had he been found guilty. In 2003, Gergen shot his pregnant wife five times, killing her and their unborn child. He was charged with first-degree murder and first-degree manslaughter, but found not guilty by reason of insanity. Unlike Monostory, Gergen was pronounced well enough to rejoin the community after five years and was released earlier this year.
Such cases have raised questions about fairness — an issue bound to surface as courts wrestle with the fate of two high-profile slaying suspects now entangled in the criminal justice and mental health care systems. They illustrate the conundrum prosecutors, juries, and the public, face when dealing with untreated mental illness — how to balance the need for punishment with the need for treatment. Some argue that there needs to be a new type of plea and more extended sentencing guidelines for dealing with the small subset of people with mental illness who commit violent crimes.