Brother describes suspect’s troubled past — (The Olympian)

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The Olympian

JENNIFER LATSON THE OLYMPIAN

Dec 30, 2004

The brother of a man suspected of killing two people in the Ken Lake area on Christmas night called the homicides a tragedy that could have been prevented had Brian Pennington’s chronic mental illness been treated.
Mark Pennington, whose brother is suspected in the shooting deaths of two Olympia men and an Oregon tow-truck driver, described the last four years of his brother’s life as a series of involuntary psychiatric commitments without follow-up care and attempts to seek treatment without being able to afford it.
“The system failed him, plain and simple,” said Pennington, a Florida resident who was in Washington to visit his brother during the holidays. Mark Pennington discovered the bodies of Donald Fitzpatrick, 47, and Mitchell Hollis, 27, the day after Christmas. Each man was killed by multiple gunshot wounds to the neck and torso, according to investigators with the Thurston County Coroner’s Office.

One victim was found in a front hallway and one in a back hallway, Olympia Police Commander Tor Bjornstad said.

Although crime scene investigators haven’t finished their reports, Bjornstad said, “there might be rounds in the wall that would indicate somebody was trying to flee when they were shot.”

Brian Pennington was found 400 miles away, at an Oregon truck stop. Pennington, 44, had shot himself in the chest, allegedly after fatally shooting a 67-year-old tow truck driver who had pulled his car out of a snowy ditch north of Klamath Falls around midnight.

Brian Pennington had been a roommate of Fitzpatrick’s at the Ken Lake home.

Hollis was a friend of Fitzpatrick’s and his former roommate.

Mark Pennington said his brother used to be happy and productive, until a divorce four years ago left him depressed. Then alcoholism and clinical depression sent him into a downward spiral from which he never recovered.

Brian Pennington once served in the Navy, where he was a petty officer second class, and then worked as a service manager at car dealerships.

Pennington was often suicidal and had trouble keeping a job after the divorce, but hadn’t previously been violent.

Pennington’s former co-workers at the Black Lake Jiffy Lube in West Olympia remember that he could lose his temper, however.

They called the police after he punched one of them in the throat early in November, according to Jiffy Lube Assistant Manager Justin Thiery. Pennington, who’d been working there about three months, was fired immediately, Thiery said.

Pennington had been sent home earlier that day for smelling like alcohol, but came back and seemed drunk and belligerent, Thiery said.

“He was getting up in the manager’s face. One of the employees said he was going to call the police if he didn’t leave,” Thiery said. “That’s when he lost his cool and punched him.”

No one thought Pennington was a threat, Thiery said, but they do in retrospect.

“Talking to my manager today, he’s pretty grateful Brian didn’t come down on him,” he said. “Everyone at the shop is pretty freaked out about it.”

There is no record of Pennington being arrested for assault at the Jiffy Lube; Thiery said he left before police arrived.

Pennington has a 2003 burglary conviction from Ravalli, Mont., where he broke into a ski lodge and stole microwaves, snowshoes and other items, according to Ravalli County Undersheriff Kevin McConnell.

Pennington was also convicted of burglary in July, after he broke into the Lacey Medical Clinic. He told police he was trying to steal a drug he could inject to kill himself.

Because of his mental illness, attorneys worked out a deal: he could serve his 4 to 12 month sentence at an inpatient substance abuse treatment center.

But that didn’t happen, according to Thurston County Chief Criminal Deputy Prosecutor Phil Harju. Pennington served a few months in the jail instead. He was released in September and put on probation.

While on probation, Pennington hardly had any contact with his probation officer. He was considered the lowest threat of released offenders — risk management level “D.”

“That’s the lowest level of supervision. They only need to report if they have a change of address or need a travel permit, or have law enforcement contact. It’s not that often,” said Department of Corrections worker Alyssa Kildall.

Risk management level “A,” the highest level, would require someone to check in every two weeks.

Both Pennington’s brother and his defense attorney are outraged he didn’t go to treatment.

“How that fell through the cracks I don’t know,” said Sharon Chirichillo, the attorney.

Mental health professionals at the Thurston County Jail said Pennington was a good candidate for treatment because he wanted therapy, Chirichillo said. They also said he did not have violent tendencies, she said.

“The health care providers told me he needed the counseling and medications he was on and he couldn’t pay for it,” Chirichillo said. “We worked really hard to get this deal. Why that didn’t take place is a question that needs to be answered.”

Breaking into the medical clinic was a plea for help, and a year in lockdown treatment would have been an answer to his plea, Pennington’s brother said.

“At what point do we need to make sure people who need help don’t kill people? I’m not trying to take the responsibility away from him (but) he was totally psychotic and out of control when this happened,” Mark Pennington said. “A few weeks ago he walked seven miles to South Sound Mental Health and said, ‘I’m sick. I want to kill myself.’ They gave him a prescription for Zoloft and said, ‘Have a nice day.’

Olympia police aren’t focusing on the motive for the homicides anymore, according to Cmdr. Bjornstad. With their only suspect dead and no trial looming, they are slowly piecing together details of the killings.

“There’s less emphasis on finding the motive if we match the suspect to the crime. If we’re not going to trial, the motive is much less important,” Bjornstad said. “It’s speculation at best.”

There was no sign of a struggle between the three men inside the Ken Lake house — nothing was broken or knocked over, Bjornstad said.

Brian Pennington had fought with his girlfriend earlier in the evening, according to Mark Pennington. He’d also recently started taking a new kind of antidepressant. But there is no good reason for the homicides, Mark Pennington said.

“He was not a monster,” Pennington said of his brother. “It was an unbelievable tragedy that could have been stopped with a few thousand dollars worth of medication and counseling.”

Jennifer Latson covers Thurston County and Tumwater for The Olympian. She can be reached at 360-754-5435 or jlatson@ olympia.gannett.com.
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