ST. LOUIS (AP) – A man accused of gunning down an Illinois pastor mid-sermon during a 2009 church service remains mentally unfit to stand trial, an appeals court ruled in pressing the case closer to being decided by a judge, not a jury.
But the Mount Vernon-based 5th District Appellate Court on Friday reversed a judge’s ruling that a long-sought psychological evaluation of Terry Sedlacek by a prosecution-chosen doctor be audiotaped. The doctor has balked at such an examination if it’s to be recorded.
Sedlacek, 31, has been confined to mental health treatment in Alton, Ill., since he was found incompetent to stand trial months after prosecutors say he strolled into First Baptist Church in Maryville and confronted the Rev. Fred Winters, by all accounts a stranger. Sedlacek has suffered bouts of erratic behavior his family has attributed to tick-borne Lyme disease.
The three-judge appellate panel, it its unanimous ruling, ordered that such the testing be limited to assessing Sedlacek’s sanity only at the time of the shooting. As soon as that testing is completed, the appeals court said, Madison County Circuit Judge Richard Tognarelli should hold a discharge hearing that could result in Sedlacek being set free, ordered to stay in mental-health confinement or sent to prison.
“A discharge hearing is basically like a trial on the facts _ was it murder?” Sedlacek’s public defender, John Rekowski, told The Associated Press on Saturday. “I am hopeful (the case) will be resolved by the end of the year.”
A not guilty plea was entered for Sedlacek after he tried during an early court appearance to plead guilty to first-degree murder and aggravated battery charges. Rekowski has said he would pursue a defense of not guilty by reason of insanity.
Stephanee Smith, a spokeswoman for Madison County State’s Attorney Tom Gibbons, said Saturday in an email to the AP that prosecutors are reviewing the appellate decision. Prosecutors declined to comment further, pending discussions with the victim’s family, she said.
Authorities have said that on March 8, 2009, Sedlacek drove his Jeep to the 1,500-member church from his home in nearby Troy, about 25 miles northeast of St. Louis, bringing with him a .45-caliber handgun and enough bullets to kill 30 people.
Witnesses said Sedlacek’s eyes were fixed on the 45-year-old preacher as he calmly walked down the center aisle toward the altar. The confetti that rained from the pastor’s Bible after the first shot made some of the 150 onlookers think at first it was a skit. Sedlacek fired three more times, with one bullet going through the pastor’s heart as Winters tried to run, authorities said.
After Sedlacek’s gun jammed, he pulled out a knife but was wrestled down by two congregants, police said. All three were wounded.
A previous public defender said a day planner found on Sedlacek’s dresser referred to the day of the shooting as “death day,” suggesting Sedlacek planned the attack. Police said they found two 12-gauge shotguns, a rifle, a box of 550 .22-caliber bullets and an index card marked “Last Day Will.”
Sedlacek had no known connection to the church or Winters.
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