A 32-year-old Aberdeen man accused of brutally killing an elderly Humptulips couple last November will be found not guilty by reason of insanity, and could spend the rest of his life in a mental hospital.
John F. Chase is charged with first-degree and second-degree murder for the deaths of 88-year-old Ralph Aldrich and his wife, 83-year-old June Aldrich, on Nov. 4, 2011. He’s also charged with first-degree burglary for entering their home and theft of a motor vehicle for taking their truck and driving to his friend’s home after the murders.
Three of the four charges against Chase carry a maximum sentence of life in prison, which would allow him to be held for that long in a mental hospital unless several review boards and the Grays Harbor Superior Court allow a change.
Judge Mark McCauley ordered a small change in the paperwork of the ruling underscoring the Grays Harbor court’s ultimate authority over whether Chase has any reductions in security or is released at some point. It’s expected to be completed Monday.
Gayle Wright, daughter of the Aldriches, said she and her family are still handling the case one day at a time.
“It still seems surreal. It still feels like this could not have happened to us,” she said.
Asked if this is the outcome her family would have hoped for, Wright said, “No, not really. I think we both would have liked to see the justice part happen. Really, he could be released. No family should ever have to go through what we’ve experienced.”
Robert Rieddell, the Aldriches’ son, said he would have liked to have a chance to see the investigation scrutinized in court. He and Wright expressed a deep frustration with the way the Hoquiam Police handled the initial investigation.
Court documents state Chase shot Ralph Aldrich with a crossbow in the yard of his Humptulips home because Chase believed the man was a demon. Afterward, thinking he heard other demons, Chase entered the home and hit June Aldrich in the head with the blunt side of a hatchet.
Ralph Aldrich was dead when police found him, and June Aldrich died a week later at Harborview Medical Center in Seattle.
After a competency restoration at Western State Hospital and medication, Chase was judged competent to stand trial.
McCauley went over the ruling with Chase in detail, and although his memory of the details seemed hazy, he fully admitted he had committed the crimes as charged.
“So you’re admitting to all these acts?” McCauley asked Chase.
“Yes, your honor,” Chase replied.
Seattle psychiatrist Dr. Mark McClung interviewed Chase in June and testified he seemed to suffer from an unspecified psychosis. He said based on his interview and a review of Chase’s case, during the crime “he was unable to tell right from wrong.”
A drug test administered a few hours after Chase’s arrest was positive for marijuana, which Chase admitted to using about a month before the crimes, but no other drugs.
McClung said some research has shown long-term, intermittent psychosis can be a result of chronic marijuana use that starts from an early age. He said Chase said he started using marijuana at about age 15, although he had not used it in some time before the last instance.
Other than a period of depression at age 19 that resulted in hospitalization after a failed suicide attempt, Chase has no documented history of mental illness. McClung testified Chase told him he had tried to kill himself as a teen because the voices told him to, and he had experienced episodes of extreme paranoia and auditory hallucinations ever since.
McClung said Chase would have cycles of sleeplessness followed by paranoia and auditory hallucinations and would try to self-medicate by abusing alcohol. The voices sometimes told Chase to hurt himself or others, McClung said.
Before the murders, Chase had been experiencing extreme paranoia for days, McClung said. A series of stressors may have played a role: He had a head injury at work, and in the course of treatment for that tested positive for marijuana use and was fired, and his car was stolen. After that, a cycle of insomnia, paranoia and hallucinations started, McClung said.
He had hardly left his apartment because of his fears, and ordered outdoor gear and weapons online. McClung said Chase “booby trapped” his apartment to ensure nothing had moved, and eventually his fears grew so intense he felt safer in the woods despite little outdoor experience.
“He seemed to have the paranoid belief that demons were after him,” McClung said.
After two days camping, Chase ended up near the Aldrich home. He saw Ralph Aldrich in his yard, “and he felt right away it was a demon. He felt angry because he felt he was being cornered by demons,” McClung said. He said Chase approached Aldrich, saying “ ‘I know what you are.’ He said the man raised his hand and said some gibberish, he didn’t know what he was saying.”
When Aldrich turned to go inside, Chase was certain he was going to get more demons and shot him with his crossbow, McClung said.
He went inside when he heard sounds, thinking there were more demons in the house. “I wanted to get them and pretty much kill them all,” McClung recalled Chase saying in their interview.
McClung said he was reasonably convinced Chase was genuinely ill and not simply faking because despite only being able to recall individual words the voices said, he had some history of mental illness, didn’t try to add issues like amnesia or blame the hallucinations for his actions, and didn’t elaborately describe his hallucinations.
“Often people who have a real psychological illness … they don’t necessarily advertise their illness,” McClung said.
Grays Harbor County Prosecutor Stew Menefee asked McClung about Chase’s risk to the public. He said Chase was likely a low to moderate risk, but a “substantial risk” without remaining under the control of the court.
“This is not a guy who has a history of anti-social or criminal or violent or victimizing behavior,” McClung said. But the stressors that seemed to lead to the murders are “all pretty common things that could happen again in the future.”
Western State psychologist Dr. Ray Hendrikson examined Chase after his competency restoration, and differed from McClung mainly on the primary diagnosis for Chase. Initially, Hendrikson diagnosed a mood disorder with psychotic features, but now believes there is enough evidence to look at schizophrenia.
He agreed that Chase posed a risk without remaining under the court’s control.
“His risk for danger remains extremely high — or elevated at least,” Hendrikson said. “There’s no reason to believe that wouldn’t occur again.”
McCauley said he would rule Chase not guilty by reason of insanity, but wanted to be explicit about the court’s role in any change in Chase’s security because of a lack of consultation in some previous cases.
“I want it specified, in bold type, he will not be reduced from the most secure level at Western State without court approval,” he said.
That order is expected to be presented Monday.
Chase will not have the right to appeal, but once committed, will have the right to a review hearing every six months if he wants to address his security or, eventually, release.
“We will be there for every appeal,” Rieddell, the Aldriches’ son, said.