A Reston man who beat his mother to death with a baseball bat seven years ago and was found not guilty by reason of insanity is about to be freed from a mental health facility after a Fairfax County judge found he is no longer insane.
Alfred L. Head, 28, never denied that he rammed his car into the front of his family's home on Westhills Lane, then ran inside and killed Zona "Libby" Head on the night of July 30, 1998. The first officer to arrive later testified that Alfred Head, then 21, was standing outside the house smoking a cigarette and told the officer, "I just killed my mother."
In October 1999, after mental health experts for the defense and the prosecution testified that he did not know right from wrong, Fairfax Circuit Court Judge Stanley P. Klein accepted Head's insanity plea. The experts said Head suffered from schizophrenia and bipolar disorder dating to 1993. Head initially was sent to Central State Hospital in Petersburg, then in 2001 was moved to Northern Virginia Mental Health Institute in Falls Church.
Now, some mental health experts said they believe Head no longer poses a danger, and Klein ordered his release.
"Essentially the same people who were telling you how sick this guy was when he's found not guilty by reason of insanity are now saying, in five years, he's fine," Fairfax Commonwealth's Attorney Robert F. Horan Jr. (D) said. "That just surprises me."
Joanmarie I. Davoli, the Fairfax public defender who handled his case, said that once the state took custody of Head, "they gave him top of the line psychiatric treatment. He has gone from denial to fully accepting and understanding that he has a serious mental illness. . . . Now that he has been competently treated by dedicated professionals, he has been in remission for five years."
During a court hearing last month, two mental health experts testified that Head now posed no danger, Davoli said. She said Philip Andrews of the mental health institute and Donna K. Moore of Central State testified that "had Alfred Head been in his right mind, he would never have harmed a hair on his mother's head."
Davoli said "as long as he remains in therapy and taking his medication, he's not violent or psychotic." Head's father and sister, as well as friends and former co-workers, also testified on his behalf. His father, Alfred F. Head, did not return a call yesterday seeking comment.
But Horan said there was not a consensus at the hearing that Head was ready to be released. Horan said that a report written by the leader of Head's treatment team at the mental health institute, Kathleen Westhoven, stated "her opinion was that he remains mentally ill and he requires inpatient hospitalization at the present time."
Since February 2003, Head has been receiving permission to leave the mental health institute unescorted, for family visits and to take classes at Northern Virginia Community College. Horan noted that Head's passes were revoked last summer "because he was not where he was supposed to be, and when he got caught, he lied about it. There were multiple violations of the risk management plan, dealing with the unescorted privileges. . . . He continued to be very manipulative."
Klein issued an order finding that Head "is no longer in need of in-patient hospitalization, provided that appropriate conditions are established for a conditional release." He directed the Community Services Board to devise a plan to treat and monitor Head once he is released. Head remains at the mental health institute and was not allowed to receive a phone call yesterday.
Mary Zdanowicz, executive director of the Treatment Advocacy Center in Arlington, said, "Treatment for serious mental illness can transform a person's life, and make them accountable and productive in society."
Shortly before her death, Head's mother had been trying desperately to get mental health treatment for her son. Two months before the beating, her son slashed his own throat and nearly died. Four days before she was killed, he voluntarily entered a psychiatric program at Inova Fairfax Hospital after threatening his parents, but he walked out the next day.
Davoli said one psychiatric report quoted Libby Head as pleading, "What do I have to do, have him kill someone to get him treatment?"