By Patsy R. Brumfield / Daily Journal
IUKA – A circuit court judge today ordered the man accused of fatally shooting two Tishomingo County officials’ father to a lifetime of mental health treatment and supervision.
He also cannot enter the county for three years.
More than four years ago, Joshua Dale “Josh” Vandiver was charged with shooting Hezzie Whitlock of Iuka, the father of Sheriff Glenn Whitlock and Tax Collector Paul Whitlock. Vandiver has spent the past years in mental institutions and regional jails while authorities considered what to do with him.
The Tishomingo County Courthouse courtroom audience was crowded with Whitlock family members before Vandiver was brought before Circuit Judge Thomas Gardner.
Prosecutors were Richard Bowen and Greg Meyer.
Since the shooting at Hezzie Whitlock’s home, Vandiver’s case has been continued at least eight times.
Before the hearing began, a dark-haired Vandiver, clad in orange jail-wear and socks with flip flops, walked across the front of the courtroom wearing handcuffs and leg shackles. He met briefly with his attorney, Ronald Michael of Booneville.
In December 2008, Vandiver was ordered to undergo psychological evaluation. Later he was found to be “paranoid, illogical” and “acutely mentally ill.”
Two years later after treatment, Vandiver was reported to be mentally competent to stand trial.
In September 2011, Gardner approved payment for a psychological evaluation of what kind of risk Vandiver poses.
Vandiver is the grandson of Hezzie Whitlock’s widow, Jean. Before today, no motive for the shooting has ever been offered. Mrs. Whitlock died before the case could be resolved.
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(Below is a running account of today’s court action in Iuka. Please excuse the typos and glitches likely as I type rapidly.)
9:20 – Multiple orange-clad defendants enter courtroom from Tishomingo County Jail.
9:54 – Judge Gardner enters courtroom. Tells other defendants he will get to them today. Don’t leave, don’t give up. We are going to get it taken care of.
First matter going to take up is State v. Josh Vandiver. Asks for court file. (Deputy goes to get Michael and Vandiver.) They enter, judge asks them to step over to the podium. Asks bailiff to remove the handcuffs, which he does.
(Judge asks him series of questions about Tishomingo grand jury indictment, Nov. 10, 2008. Charged with murder.)
After that various things done, including court order for psychological evaluation at state hospital. And some other things, we’ll talk about as we go along. Ms State Hospital determined then that you were not competent to participate in any way for this case. They determined you were not capable of understanding right or wrong, when you committed this act.
My first concern, today, whether you are competent to proceed today. I have had benefit of Dr. Lott and Dr. McMichael’s reports. Discussions with the attorneys. I think it is imperative at this point that I determine your current status. These questions are to make this determination. (Vandiver says he understands.)
Stipulation has been developed. It is determined that you were at the time of this offense incapable of understanding what was happening. You were, as I understand, by psych reports – you were acting under influence of some extraneous factors … a voice. Understand? (Yes sir.)
But today, any question about your competence? Based on what I have observed of you – I have several occasions in past few months – find that you are in fact competent and able to proceed.
Now, important that I look into the stipulation, but before I do that… for record … I ask state or defense not to read the stipulation yet. I have read it, it’s signed, to be filed? (Yes sir.) Have you read it and understand? (Yes sir.) Szys you were not competent at time of offense.
MICHAEL – I would like for Mr. Vandiver acknowledge that I have advised him he has a right to trial by jury (they agreed to trial by judge). Also, he is waiving that right. Giving this court to determine his guilt or innocence in this case. He is fully aware by this stipulation that you have jurisdiction here.
Stipulation tracks time of offense, where Josh was indicted for murder of Hezzie Whitlock, June 2008. Referred to Dr. Lott for treatment and assessment – found him mentally ill and not capable of assisting in his own defense. He was treated at Ms State Hospital, March 2009, hearing and order of commitment for him. Transported to State Hospital in Pearl. Evaluated by Dr. Rev McMichael. April 2009 brought there.
Almost two years of treatment … finally, after four evaluations, Dr. McMichael and staff determined he was competent to assist his attorneys. Also, that at tragic event June 20, 2008, he did suffer from acute mental illness … and at time, he couldn’t understand right or wrong of that event.
Question then becomes, what was Josh’s risk? Evaluation by Dr. Lott, he found Vandiver was suffering from mental illness again… he continues to suffer chronic and acute … mental illness is controlled by medication he takes. He’s stabilized, competent to assist with a trial or legal work by his attorneys. Dr. Lott also determined he would be a high risk for aggressive or violent behavior toward others, but in controlled environment he could maintain and live in society, so long as part of intensive out-patient treatment. Letter to court by treatment facility. They agree to help him and provide out-patient facility. Will be counseled once a week. Assessed weekly for drug testing, to make sure medications are being taken properly and not any illegal drugs.
Stipulation is that he admits he shot Mr. Whitlock in 2008, but based on psych reports he was legally insane at the time, and now competent to proceed. We agree he will follow strict treatment and orders of this court. Court retains jurisdiction over him. Also won’t live in Tishomingo County for next three years. Then review to see what goes forward.
Intent of stipulation – under court’s jurisdiction until find it’s no longer necessary. If it’s for the next 30 years, it’s for the next 30 years. WE want community and Mr. Vandiver protected.
JUDGE – Swears Vandiver in.
VANDIVER – (Judge asks him questions – says some concerns about your future activities. Where that evaluation came from. What has been fashioned here is in recognition of your psych circumstances at time of crime and attempt today to ensure that you are properly treated and someone who is going to examine you from time to time … they will see that you are using your medications etc. That’s the secret to this whole thing – that you remain on those medications as necessary. First of all, do you understand charge?) Yes sir. (Now, after all said and done, did you in fact commit offense?) Yes sir. (Understanding that agreeing and entering plea of guilty, finding by court of guilt you are waiving trial by a jury to determine if you committed it, and question of insanity would be before a jury?) Yes sir. (By stipulation, you are admitting you committed it but because you were mentally incompetent at time, you would be found not guilty. Understand?) Yes sir.
(If jury made that finding, then would consider your present circumstance and if you were a threat?) Yes sir. (If you continue, you will have no right to appeal this court’s sentence.) Correct. (Maximum penalty for this offense is life in prison with MDOC?) Yes sir. (No minimum, that is THE sentence?) Yes sir. (You would be eligible for release until you’re at least 65 years old and had done at least 15 years with MDOC?) Yes sir.
(I suppose you are better source… any questions for me? I know attorney has explained things/) No sir.
JUDGE – To Michael, as his attorney you have had considerable time to talk with and observed Mr. Vandiver. Is there any question in your mind aobut his competence? Or that at any time, during negotiations any reason to question his ability to understand?) (Michael – no sir, none.)(To Bowen -)
BOWEN – As court knows, this matter going on for 4 1/2 plus years. Sad and tragic situation in need of conclusion. State satisfied with the resolution today … another step in process to lead to final conclusion. No good conclusion because only good … would be that it never happened. Tragically, it did. He testified he killed Mr. Whitlock. State understands it must prove his sanity at time of the acts. This the state cannot do. After treatment, he was restored to competence. Could stand trial, but we have waived a jury trial and asked court to decide it. No factual issues for a jury to decide.
We understand he shot and killed Mr. Hezzie Whitlock. State psychiatrists … were not defense psychiatrists … rare that they ever find someone legally insane. State accepts that because we cannot prove otherwise. No expert or lay testimony to say he was sane at the time of the acts. State is satisfied it could not reach this burden of proof.
For this reason and others in stipulation … ask court to enter this order. We believe agreed order with plan mentioned is not only in defendants best interest with treatment monitoring and supervision… hopefully will prevent re-occurrence of acute mental illness where act could be repeated … while he has “stabilized,” he continues to suffer from acute mental illness. Stability will continue with medication, treatment and monitoring.
For that purpose, state and defense talked to Region IV Mental Health services … developed a treatment plan, which is part of the stipulation and proposed order for court. Basically, psych services will be provided with Region IV. Urine/blood tests at least weekly. Therapy at least once a week. Other tests upon any suspicions of any other drugs. If any de-stabilization suspected, if he is lapsing or is danger, he will be referred back to doctor and transferred to State Hospital for in-patient treatment.
Also reports to court on regular basis about his progress and status.
Several things, state and defense stipulated to include in order. First, strictly follow treatment plan. Region IV cannot modify order. Second, no contact with victim’s family, includes sheriff and tax collector, others. No contact with their immediate families. Stay outside Tish for three years. Court will review at that time about whether it should continue. Cannot return to Tish until court says so. Also, prohibited from use of alcohol or other drugs not prescribed by treatment. If prescribed other medications, he will report to facility. Prohibited from owning/possessing firearms. Make himself available to court whenever court sees fit. Ordered to stay on prescribed meds. Defendant agrees and signed a voluntary commitment order – which provides for that if staff sees its need or if it violates this order. Will be taken straight to MS State Hospital.
If he misses any appointments, screenings, counseling – must get prior approval to do so. Report to the court as ordered for court’s review of compliance. Also any treatment under this plan will be borne by him or his insurance, no obligation by Tishomingo Cnty.
State believes this plan … is sufficient to meet both needs of defendant and importantly from state standpoint. Best we can do to ensure he does not pose future risk of violence to the public. If it does, we will treat by immediate hospitalization.
No good outcome to this situation. It’s the best we can get.
JUDGE – Asks Vandiver – do you understand provisions of this order? (Yes sir). Perchance, if I leave the bench, do you understand this is ongoing. My successor will ahve ever right to enforce this? (Yes sir.) Doesn’t end with me. Understand why family has been advised during these negotiations .. they have not … approved of this. They understand this is probably the best and most efficient means of dealing with this. They don’t entirely approve? (Yes sir.)
MICHAEL – Before present some exhibits … I want to say that I … understand the tragedy this is to the Whitlock family. Our actions aren’t intended to negate or not accept seriousness of those actions. I’m very sorry this has happened. I want family to know that. I believe actions taken today and htis court provide a tremendously better plan than anything else that could be developed. To try to ensure this never happens again. (Presents exhibits.)
JUDGE – Anything else? Vandiver say:
VANDIVER – Say I’m sorry for what happened. Today, would not have happened. Ask forgiveness from the people it’s affected.
JUDGE – Court finds him not guilty by reason of his insanity. Circumstances … some reason for me to be concerned about this. Because of that… with agreement, court is ordering a continuation of court’s jurisdiction while you participate in very controlled and detailed treatment program I find appropriate for the safety of the public and the defendant himself. To fashion some safe, reasonable, certain circumstances so that you can return to society and live a fruitful life, understanding what’s happened before today.
I encourage you to do all you can to be sure all provisions of treatment plan are met. Important to you and to the public. Spirit of the whole thing. Keep jurisdiction to ensure you follow the plan developed. You will return to Alcorn County, where I understand you will reside. Return him to Alcorn Sheriff for departure.
10:45 – Hearing ends.
• Read other report in Wednesday’s Daily Journal.