EDWARDSVILLE, Ill. | A man accused of gunning down a pastor during a Sunday sermon as the church’s congregation watched in horror is mentally unfit to stand trial, a judge in southwestern Illinois ruled Tuesday.
The decision by Madison County Circuit Judge Richard Tognarelli came just days after psychologist Robert Heilbronner reported that his court-ordered examination of Terry Sedlacek found the suspect to be schizophrenic and unlikely to be able to assist in his defense.
Tognarelli ordered that Sedlacek, 27, be remanded to the custody of the state Department of Human Services, which must report to the court within 30 days whether there is any probability that Sedlacek’s mental capacity for trial would improve within a year.
A not guilty plea has been entered on Sedlacek’s behalf on first-degree murder and aggravated battery charges stemming from the March 8 shooting at First Baptist Church in Maryville that killed the Rev. Fred Winters and injured two churchgoers who subdued the suspect.
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Authorities say Sedlacek drove his Jeep to the church from his home in nearby Troy and entered the 1,500-member church with a .45-caliber Glock handgun and enough bullets to kill 30 people, his eyes fixed on the 45-year-old preacher as he walked down an aisle toward the altar.
The first shot clipped the Bible that Winters was clutching, witnesses and authorities said, sending pieces of it spraying like confetti in what some of the 150 onlookers thought at first was a skit.
Instead, Sedlacek allegedly fired three more times, with one bullet going through the pastor’s heart, killing him. After Sedlacek’s gun jammed, police say, he pulled out the knife and wrestled with two congregants who subdued him. All three were wounded.
Sedlacek has no apparent connection to the church or to Winters.
He has suffered bouts of erratic behavior his family has attributed to Lyme disease, though Tognarelli’s three-page ruling makes no reference to that tick-borne ailment.
But Tognarelli wrote that prosecutors and defense attorneys agree that Heilbronner, if called to testify, would describe Sedlacek as a schizophrenic likely to provide his attorneys with inaccurate or illogical explanations for his behavior.
Heilbronner also found that Sedlacek would struggle to follow the trial process, “have significant difficulty listening to and understanding explanations that are provided to him, and be unable to respond in a relevant manner during pleading or testimony.”
John Rekowski, Sedlacek’s public defender, called Tuesday’s development “obviously the correct ruling,” noting that “we know of nothing that would contradict (Heilbronner’s) findings.”
Bill Mudge, Madison County’s state’s attorney, said in a statement that if Sedlacek responds to treatment and eventually is deemed fit to go on trial, “the people of the state of Illinois stand ready to prosecute this case and seek justice for the victims, their families” and the church.
Winters’ widow, Cindy Winters, has an unpublished home listing and could not be reached for comment.