Monday, February 15, 1999

Man who beheaded wife is called all better

The Cincinnati Enquirer

Raymond Tanner
        HAMILTON — Since his release from a mental institution two years ago, Raymond Tanner has pursued a quiet, low-profile existence. He lives alone in a Dayton, Ohio, apartment, supports himself as a delivery man, sees his psychologist every two weeks and his case manager weekly.

        Butler County mental health officials have been monitoring him.

        They find no recurrences of the mental illness that caused him to decapitate his wife with a large kitchen knife in the doorway of their Fairfield apartment nine years ago.

        “He has managed the stresses of daily life very well,” said John Staup, executive director of the Butler Board of Mental Health.

        Mr. Tanner was found not guilty by reason of insanity in the Valentine's Day killing of 21-year-old Maria Tanner.

        He returns Feb. 26 to Butler County Common Pleas Court for the first review of his case since his release from Dayton's Twin Valley Psychiatric System.

        If Judge H.J. Bressler releases him from court control, Mr. Tanner would not have to report to a case manager and would be free to discontinue his visits to his psychologist.

        Mr. Tanner's case has reignited a controversy over the insanity defense and its impact

        on public safety.

        Mrs. Tanner's family and opponents of the insanity defense have angrily criticized the court every time it has loosened Mr. Tanner's restrictions during the past nine years. They were especially vocal two years ago when now-retired Judge George Elliott allowed Mr. Tanner to move into the community.

        “He decapitated someone,” said Mrs. Tanner's mother, Shirley Cleaver of Xenia, Ohio. “Are they ready to trust this man? I would like to see the court keep at least some control over him.”

        At his 1990 trial, psychiatrists for both sides said Mr. Tanner was legally insane when he killed his wife. In his paranoid-schizophrenic delusions, he thought she was plotting to kill him, they said.

        Based on those diagnoses, Judge Elliott found Mr. Tanner not guilty.

        Ohio has permitted the insanity defense since at least 1843, said Sam Hibbs, spokesman for the Ohio Department of Mental Health. There are 32 killers in Ohio who were found not guilty by reason of insanity and, like Mr. Tanner, are living today in the community under court control.

        Thirteen states allow a different verdict — guilty but mentally ill — which imprisons defendants after they complete mental-health treatment.

        Ohio is one of 37 states that has a not guilty by reason of insanity verdict but does not have a guilty but mentally ill verdict.

        In Ohio, defendants enter insanity pleas in 1.4 percent of the felony indictments, according to a report by the Ohio Department of Mental Health's Office of Forensic Services. About 15 percent of those insanity pleas result in acquittals.

        The central question troubling many people about the Tanner case is: Could Mr. Tanner kill again?

        His victim's mother says he can and will. “I never believed the man was insane. As far as I'm concerned, there's a killer on the streets,” Mrs. Cleaver said.

        Mr. Howard emphatically disagreed. “There's no way there's ever going to be a recurrence of what happened in February of 1990,” he said.

        He said Mr. Tanner knows to watch for the signs that his mental illness is returning: feeling paranoid, hearing voices and losing his appetite and his interest in caring for himself.

        “If he ever saw those signs, he would do something about it,” Mr. Howard said, “but he's had no symptoms at all since 1990.”

        Mr. Howard said he will urge Judge Bressler to release Mr. Tanner completely from court control.

        “He hasn't had a single symptom of mental illness in nine years,” he said.

        Mr. Tanner is a lower risk for violence than most of those found not guilty by reason of insanity of nonviolent crimes, the mental health board's Mr. Staup said.

        “He's functioning better than a lot of our other forensic clients,” said James Kinnan, the board's director of professional services. Mr. Tanner hasn't needed medication for about seven years, he said.

        Mr. Tanner drives a delivery truck for a private company. To protect Mr. Tanner, Mr. Howard refused to name his employer.

        “He's just trying to lead as normal a life as he can,” Mr. Howard said. His biggest disappointment since his release was being fired last year as checker and produce manager at a Dayton grocery store, Mr. Howard said.

        One of his victim's relatives recognized Mr. Tanner at the store and complained to management, which was unaware of his background, Mr. Howard said.

        The store fired him but later paid a settlement after Mr. Tanner filed a union grievance.

        Mr. Tanner refuses to be interviewed. He wants to preserve his privacy and fears a news story might inflame his wife's family, who might mistakenly think he's gloating about not going to prison for killing his wife, Mr. Howard said.

        “He has never bragged about getting away with it,” he said. “He has been extremely remorseful about it ever since he got on medication nine years ago and realized what he had done. He understands he was very sick.”


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