Effingham Daily News, Effingham, IL

Local News

December 12, 2012

Schmitt committed for attacks, murder

EFFINGHAM —

The Effingham native and former Metro East school board member jailed in connection with the savage attack on an Edgewood mother and daughter - and murder of his father - could possibly spend the rest of his life in a secure mental health facility after a Tuesday morning commitment hearing in Effingham County Circuit Court.

Gary B. Schmitt, 48, had been found not guilty by reason of insanity Oct. 19 in connection with the Jan. 16, 2011, attempted murders of Kimberly J. (Jodi) Harris and her daughter, Lauran Christine Huntington, at their Edgewood home. A similar finding was determined in connection with the death of his father, Jack, during the summer of 2010.

Schmitt admitted killing his father while police were questioning him about the Edgewood attacks.

Harris was legally known as Kimberly J. Bourland at the time of the attacks.

Judge Kimberly Koester said psychiatrists found Schmitt to suffer from a schizoaffective disorder that hampered his ability to realize the criminal nature of his actions. The judge added both incidents came after Schmitt reduced his medications without consulting his doctor.

"Mr. Schmitt had a decades-long history of mental illness that had been managed by medication," Koester said. At the time of the Edgewood attacks, Schmitt was employed in a professional position with Catholic Social Services in Belleville and was a member of the school board in the Metro East community of Troy.

Koester said Schmitt would have to be released from Department of Human Services on the murder rap by 2072, when he would be 108 years old. But then, he would have to begin his commitment period for the Edgewood attacks. Even with credit for 695 days time served and good behavior, Schmitt's mandatory release date is set for June 10, 2098.

He would be 133 years old by then.

Koester admitted there were no real winners in this case. The attacks left Harris with permanent injuries and Huntington with a number of issues that she outlined in a tearful victim impact statement.

"There's no good outcome in this case," the judge said. "It is the court's hope that Mr. Schmitt will receive the treatment he needs, and it is also the court's hope that Ms. Harris and Ms. Huntington can move on from these events."

Koester could not set a specific length of time that Schmitt must be confined, but added the defendant would have to jump through many, many proverbial hoops before receiving so much as a weekend furlough.

Former Effingham County State's Attorney Ed Deters, who was appointed a special assistant state's attorney by new State's Attorney Bryan Kibler for Tuesday's hearing, told Koester he didn't believe the DHS recommendation of confinement in a secure facility for at least one year was an appropriate resolution of the case.

Deters admitted after the hearing that he had difficulty accepting the indefinite nature of the sentence.

"I like certainty," he said. "Most Americans would expect you to be in prison for the rest of your life if you had done something like this."

But Deters said it was impossible to overlook the psychiatric findings when determining whether to try Schmitt on the charges.

"It was a very tough call to give up that certainty, but we had two psychiatrists who had been practicing for decades tell us he was insane when he committed those crimes," he said.

Deters said Schmitt could not be released without the blessing of both DHS and the court. He added he is confident any future state's attorney or judge would not take the case lightly based on the severity of the crime.

"These were horrible crimes," Deters said. "I think, as a society, we tend to speak in hyperbole. But to call this a nightmare is not hyperbole and I think the state's attorney's office and court would give this the serious and deep review it deserves."

Victims Harris and Huntington took the courtroom back to that fateful January day. Mother and daughter both told Schmitt how the attack has changed their lives.

Wearing the red scrubs of an Effingham High School health occupations student, Huntington tearfully said she could no longer listen to loud music, nor sleep with her back to the door for fear that her mother might again be attacked.

"I still remember that night so vividly," Huntington said. "It's like a horror movie I will never be able to forget."

Despite her tears, Huntington told Schmitt his actions would not keep her from living her life.

"I'm never going to let you win," she said. "I forgive you for what you did to me, but I will never forgive you for what you did to my mom."

Harris graphically recounted the attack that nearly took her life.

"January 16, 2011, was a life-changing day for me," she said.

Harris recalled how she had "friended" Schmitt on her Facebook page. The two had been acquainted as teenagers, she said.

She said her phone number had been on her Facebook page. When Schmitt called, he said he passed through Edgewood from time to time and would stop by sometime.

That sometime turned out to be later that day. Harris said she invited Schmitt into her home. After he asked for a glass of water, she said, the attack began.

"He hit me hard on top of my head and started stabbing me," Harris said.

Harris said her daughter came out of her bedroom, at which time Schmitt began attacking her. By the time he was finished, she said, she had been stabbed 17 times, losing three pints of blood, while her daughter was stabbed seven times.

The attack lasted eight minutes and was interrupted when a neighbor came into the home in response to the ladies' screams.

"It's amazing how much damage can be done in eight minutes," Harris said.

Harris said she will never physically recover from the attack.

"I will have disabilities for the rest of my life," she said. Her injuries include limited use of her right hand and facial damage that makes it difficult to eat and swallow. Medical bills, she said, total between $250,000 and $300,000.

Harris said Schmitt should never again be a free man.

"He doesn't deserve to be alive," she said. "He should be locked away for the rest of his life."

Harris said after the hearing she doesn't like the theoretical possibility that Schmitt could one day be released.

"I'm not excited about that part of it," she said. "But at least we know it would have to go through the proper channels."

Harris said resolution of the case means she and her daughter can continue the recovery process.

"I hope my daughter and I can have some peace of mind, knowing he will be locked away."

Bill Grimes can be reached at 217-347-7151, ext. 132, or at bill.grimes@effinghamdailynews.com.

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