Man deemed insane in 1987 fitness center shootings may move from hospital to care home

04/17/2014 5:45 PM

08/08/2014 10:23 AM

More than 2 1/2 decades after he was found not guilty by reason of insanity in a deadly shooting rampage at a Wichita fitness center, Gary A. Cox remains mentally ill but is stable enough to be moved from a state hospital to a residential care home near Fredonia, a judge ruled Thursday.

Cox, 53, who was tried for killing one person and wounding three others, wore handcuffs and an orange Sedgwick County Jail jumpsuit during a hearing on the fifth floor of the Sedgwick County Courthouse. He smiled occasionally as a psychiatrist, psychologist and social worker at Osawatomie State Hospital testified through closed-circuit television that he did not pose a danger to himself or others as long as he was taking his anti-psychotic medication. Cox did not speak during the one-hour hearing.

District Judge Christopher Magana approved Cox’s conditional release after Assistant Sedgwick County District Attorney David Lowden did not oppose it.

“It would appear from evidence presented that commitment in a state hospital is no longer necessary and conditional release is appropriate,” Magana said.

Magana said the evidence also shows that Cox remains mentally ill and is therefore not eligible to be discharged from state custody.

Cox was 26 on Feb. 26, 1987, when he walked into the fitness center and signed in before reaching into a black duffel bag and pulling out a .357-caliber revolver. Wichita police said he opened fire on a group of men lifting weights, killing 18-year-old Michael Turnbull and wounding three others before running out a back door. He was arrested at a South Broadway motel the next morning.

Doctors later diagnosed Cox as a paranoid schizophrenic and said he was hallucinating that he was being attacked with a knife before the shooting. Cox was charged with first-degree murder and three counts of attempted murder, but found not guilty by reason of insanity after a bench trial. He was committed to Larned State Hospital in 1987 and transferred to Osawatomie in September 1994.

He was granted a conditional release to Medicalodge of Paola in July 2011, but was returned to Osawatomie several months later after suffering from medical problems. He later told workers at Osawatomie that he didn’t want to return to the home in Paola because the residents were largely inactive and uncommunicative.

Psychiatrist Kathryn Gayesky testified that Cox would be a better fit at the home in Fredonia, where she said residents function at a higher level and have access to bus service that will allow Cox to seek employment. The homes in Paola and Fredonia are unlocked but require residents to get permission from the staff before checking out of the facility, she said.

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