Thursday, February 18, 2010

Love Letters, Flowers and Bullets

by Diane Fanning

Julie Abbott loved rock music, great novels and her bright red convertible.  It seemed as if everyone loved the 47-year-old physician with an uncommon intensity: the patients as well as the other doctors and staff in her internal medicine practice, the parishioners at Community Bible Church and, most of all, her husband Ben Abbott.
Julie and Ben fell in love decades ago, while making angels in the snow on the campus of Texas Tech University.  They'd been happily married for 28 years.

Nearly everyone who met Julie Abbott was enchanted by her.  Unfortunately, one of those people was 52-year-old Tim McCloskey.  His wife, Ellen, had worked for Julie as a receptionist for the past six years. But it wasn't until the holiday season of 2007 that Tim met Julie at a company Christmas party.  At that moment, his obsession with her began.

Tim, with a long, documented history of mental illness, was drawn into a downward spiral by this fixation.  He sent the doctor love letters and flowers.  She did nothing to encourage him, but knowing of his illness, she hesitated to do anything to embarrass him or his wife.

Tim's mental state worsened; he stopped leaving the house and refused to bathe or brush his teeth.  In his mind, he was a spurned lover and Julie his cruel tormentor.

His escalating inappropriate behavior became a source of constant stress in Julie's life.  She and the staff sought a quiet, in-house solution.  When she went to work on April 4, 2008, she was looking forward to leaving early to go on vacation with her husband, Ben.

On that same day, Tim McCloskey emerged from his home for the first time in weeks.  No one is certain how long he waited in the parking lot of Julie's office before the target of his passion and his rage stepped outside.

Tim, with unkempt gray hair and a thick beard, confronted Julie.  Valerie Cantu, a nurse from another office, walked by the volatile pair.  Julie warned her that the large man had a gun.  Valerie looked in Tim's cold, emotionless eyes.  Fearful, she dialed 9-1-1.

Tim pulled the trigger, shooting Julie in the abdomen.  He stood over her fallen body and shot her in the shoulder.  San Antonio Police Officer Michael Blanquiz squealed into the parking lot.  Tim turned, smirked at the officer, and delivered a third bullet straight into Julie's head.

The patrolman squatted behind his car for cover and demanded Tim drop his weapon.  Instead, the killer walked towards him, gun in hand.  As the distance closed, the policeman had a serious decision to make.  "Honestly," he said,  "I wanted to run like everybody else was, but I didn't have anywhere to run. He had to be stopped."  He fired six times, hitting McCloskey with four shots -- two in his legs, one in his hand and a providential hit in Tim's gun hand that sent the weapon clattering to the pavement.

Julie was rushed to University Hospital, where she was pronounced dead at 2:27 that afternoon.  After emergency surgery, McCloskey was in critical condition.  He was charged by proxy with murder and capital murder.  He spent a full year in the hospital recovering, but his injuries left him in a wheelchair, capable of walking short distances only on his tiptoes.

In January 2010, the case went to trial.  The prosecution team asked for life in prison for Timothy McCloskey.  Defense Attorney Tony Cantrell did not argue for the innocence of his client on the homicide charge but claimed he was not guilty by reason of insanity.  Tim McCloskey, he said, had a psychotic break and didn't realize what he was doing.  On the second charge of assault, he called witnesses whose testimony contradicted Officer Blanquiz when they said that McCloskey never pointed the gun in the policeman's direction, and thus, was not guilty of that crime.

On Wednesday, January 13, closing arguments ended and the decision was in the hands of the jury.  The jury deliberated for several hours before going home for the day.  On Thursday, the debate remained contentious.  At one point, the panel sent a note to the District Judge Ron Rangel saying they were hopelessly deadlocked.  The judge ordered them to continue.

After fourteen hours over two days, they reached a verdict: legally sane and guilty of murder and aggravated assault on a police officer.  The punishment phase of the trial began the next day.

Jurors listened to emotional testimony from Julie's husband and Tim's sons.  Several members of the panel wiped away tears throughout the morning.

The jury's ambivalence about the verdict was obvious in their decision on sentencing.  Rather than imposing life in prison, they gave him a thirty-year sentence for Julie's death -- half of which had to be served before he would be eligible for parole.  They also levied ten years probation for the assault on Officer Blanquiz, to be served concurrently with his imprisonment on the homicide charge.

No matter how you view the verdict or the sentence, one thing is indisputable: a wonderful, compassionate woman is dead and nothing can bring her back to the many who loved her.  The big question for me is this: could something have been done before that fatal day to prevent her murder?

When involuntary commitment was too easy, its abuses were plentiful, cruel and unjust.  But now, is it so difficult that the same adjectives apply?  Is there a middle ground where we can protect the rights of the mentally ill -- most of whom will never harm anyone -- and, at the same time, protect society from the violence perpetrated by a few seriously disturbed individuals?

I am convinced that there has to be.  Finding it would require a concerted effort by victims' advocates, mental health professionals and informed legislators.  Are they up to the challenge?  Or are we doomed to see these senseless crimes repeated again and again?


Paralegal Sandy said...

Well here we are again with basically the same problem we've been talking about in the last 3 issues. When can we know that bazaar behavior is going to go so far as to result the violent death of another unfortunate human.

In hind sight the answer seems so easy. If only Mr. McCloskey had been institutionalized BEFORE Ms. Abbott was killed by him. Unfortunately they can’t be locked up until they murder someone. And we can’t un-murder the victim who was loved by many. She was a productive, positive part of this world. What a shame and disgrace that her life was taken. She was just an innocent member of society. It could happen to any of us.

To the world she may have been just another person but to one, or some, she was probably their world.

Does anyone have a solution to all the havoc going on in the world? Seems like it they did, surely we would have put it into action by now.

Leah said...

While I believe in protecting every individuals rights, including mentally ill, that shouldn't happen at the expense of innocent people. But it too often does, especially, as preciously stated above, when you cannot do anything until someone actually commits a crime. This is too high a price IMHO.

shthar said...

There was probably a faction in the jury that didn't want their tax dollars to be used for this guys medical bills.

Kind of like the case in california where they dropped charges against a gal who was gonna be in a wheelchair for the rest of her life.

Soobs said...

As someone who has TRIED to get a loved one committed involuntarily, I can tell you, it's no easy feat. Unfortunately, it has become a "wait until they do something" situation. Again, unfortunately, someone had to lose their life. I wonder if the doctor had filed for a protection order earlier, disregarding the sensitive nature of her work relationship with the wife, if it would have made a difference. We know that a PPO isn't really helpful, if someone is trying to hurt you, but at least there would have been a record. Such a sad situation.

Andrea Campbell said...

As usual Diane has presented us with a difficult choice that society has yet to tackle. It is a blot on today's justice system when the rights of a delusional person trump the life of a valuable and loved member of the community.

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