Not Guilty by Reason of Insanity

Just about anyone who was a student at Carolina in 1995 remembers where they were on January 26 of that year when they heard that a gunman carrying a World-War-II-era rifle had opened fire on passersby as he walked down Henderson Street shortly after lunchtime. The shooter was Wendell Williamson, a third-year student at UNC law. He shot and killed two people that afternoon: Ralph Walker, Jr., a 42-year-old Chapel Hill resident, and twenty-year-old Kevin Reichardt, who was a sophomore at UNC and a member of the university’s lacrosse team. Williamson, who suffered from paranoid schizophrenia, was tried for murder. The jury found him not guilty by reason of insanity. What happened next for Williamson is what happens to all criminal defendants acquitted by reason of insanity. He was involuntarily committed to a state mental health hospital, where he will remain until he can demonstrate that he (1) no longer has a mental illness or (2) is no longer dangerous to others. Are defendants like Williamson who are charged with homicide and found not guilty by reason of insanity ever released from state hospitalization?

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