ST. LOUIS — A man accused of fatally shooting a pastor mid-sermon three years ago remains prone to hallucinations, barking, growling and other "nonsensical noises," making him mentally unfit to stand trial any time soon, a southwestern Illinois judge has ruled.
The finding raises the specter that Terry Sedlacek might never face a jury on charges that he gunned down the Rev. Fred Winters at Maryville's First Baptist Church as a stunned congregation looked on in horror. Sedlacek had no known connection to the church or Winters, and an investigator said Winters hadn't received any previous threats before Sedlacek calmly walked into the church and opened fire.
Madison County Circuit Judge Richard Tognarelli, in a ruling Friday, said there's no substantial probability that Sedlacek would regain his mental wherewithal within the next year to stand trial. Sedlacek has been confined to mental health treatment since being found incompetent to stand trial seven months after the March 2009 shooting.
Sedlacek's public defender, John Rekowski, is pressing for a discharge hearing since it's unlikely his client will face trial. Such a hearing could result in Sedlacek being set free, ordered to stay in mental health confinement or even prison time.
"When it comes to a true, classical trial situation, I don't think that's ever going to happen," Rekowski said Wednesday. "He's not mentally competent, and there's not much likelihood he will ever be competent."
Before that could happen, prosecutors must decide whether to challenge a separate ruling from the judge that requires Sedlacek be videotaped if he undergoes an evaluation by a doctor chosen by prosecutors. The doctor has said he wouldn't accept such a stipulation.
Madison County prosecutors are weighing whether to appeal, a spokeswoman said. The county's top prosecutor, Tom Gibbons, said last month that prosecutors intended to press for a trial.
Citing reports by the Illinois Department of Human Services, which has been Sedlacek's caretaker in confinement, Tognarelli wrote that even with large doses of anti-psychotic medications, "he is observed 'making loud grunting noises with his arms held out and shaking his head from side to side.'"
The judge also noted that Sedlacek, in all but one of the reports since being confined, has been documented howling, "barking and growling," ''laughing and making nonsensical noises" and talking and laughing loudly when alone.
A not guilty plea was entered on Sedlacek's behalf after he tried during an early court appearance to plead guilty to the first-degree murder and aggravated battery charges. Rekowski has said he would pursue a defense of not guilty by reason of insanity.
Authorities have said 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.
Police searched Sedlacek's bedroom and said they found two 12-gauge shotguns, a rifle and a box of 550 .22-caliber bullets, along with an index card marked "Last Day Will." 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.
Sedlacek has suffered bouts of erratic behavior his family has attributed to tick-borne Lyme disease.
"We're not talking about a person who was perfectly fine the day before this happened," Rekowski, the public defender, said Wednesday. "This man had serious mental issues — never violent — for years preceding this incident."