My heart goes out to the family of Chad Wegkamp, who, although clearly psychotic, is being dealt with severely and inhumanely by prosecutors ["The Psychotic Bank Robber," Style, Jan. 26].
As a defense attorney for more than 10 years, I know that prosecutor R. Michael McKenney isn't being completely honest when he says he is just following the rules. There is such a thing as prosecutorial discretion, and it isn't being exercised in this case by either state or federal prosecutors.
This article also points out the problems with mental health professionals who do evaluations in these cases. Although their science is inexact, their findings are taken as truth. I would tell Chad Wegkamp's family what I tell my clients in similar cases when they ask, "Why are they doing this to me?"
The only answer is "Because they can."
After reading "The Psychotic Bank Robber," I have concluded that the person who doesn't know right from wrong is Northumberland County prosecutor R. Michael McKenney.
The poor boy who robbed the bank may know the difference between right and wrong, but he was unable to access this concept at the time because of his intrusive thoughts.
During his so-called crime spree, no one was hurt, all the money was returned and the counterfeit bills were never used. Please let him be treated appropriately.
As a lawyer practicing criminal defense in the Northern Neck, I can assure The Post's readers that the sad tale of Chad Wegkamp is just the tip of the iceberg. The criminal courts are full of mentally ill people. Mr. Wegkamp is unusual only in that he comes from a family with the financial resources to retain private counsel and pay for independent psychiatric evaluations.
What do we do with mentally ill people who commit crimes? The Northern Neck has no treatment facilities, few programs and no alternatives to incarceration or release. Meager resources have been further diminished by the recent budget cuts.
And for the record, as lawyers like to say, the article did not do justice to R. Michael McKenney, the Northumberland County commonwealth's attorney. Each player in the criminal justice system has a job to do, and Mr. McKenney does his skillfully, honorably and compassionately. As he said in your interview, the solution to this problem continues to elude those of us who deal with it every day.
Yes, people who break the law should meet appropriate consequences. But for R. Michael McKenney to lay responsibility for behavior complicated by a brain disorder at the feet of Chad Wegkamp's parents suggests that the prosecutor is unaware that Virginia law makes it nearly impossible for parents to get sufficient medical help for their adult children who have brain disorders. The path to an official diagnosis of paranoid schizophrenia is long and complicated, and it is an even longer path to discovering a combination of medications that will work to alleviate some symptoms.
Even if Mr. Wegkamp's parents had an indication that there was going to be a bank robbery, Virginia law makes it next to impossible to get physical custody for commitment if someone isn't exhibiting symptoms, in front of an evaluator, that suggest they are in imminent danger of harm to themselves or others. What additional steps did Mr. McKenney feel Chad Wegkamp's parents should have taken that would have prevented the bank robbery?
I hope a wise and compassionate judge presides at the trial.