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Published Tuesday, February 6, 2007 11:32:10 AM CST
By Mike Heine, Gazette staff
ELKHORN – Robbie S. Dickerson took the gun of Walworth County Deputy Cheryl Schmidt and held her hostage the night of June 21, 2006.
There is no question about that.
But did he know what he was doing?
A jury began pondering that question Monday during Dickerson’s mental competency hearing at the Walworth County Judicial Center.
Dickerson, 26, pleaded guilty to five felonies-taking a hostage, disarming a police officer, battery to an officer, reckless endangerment and endangering safety by using a firearm. He maintains he is not criminally responsible, however, because he suffered from a mental disease or defect.
Two psychologists and a psychiatrist have different opinions, defense attorney John Dade said in his opening statement.
Dr. Deborah Collins, a court-appointed psychologist, testified that Dickerson suffered from depression, but it did not prevent him from knowing right from wrong. The depression was “incidental” and did not cause Dickerson’s behavior, she said.
“There is clear and ample evidence that he was aware of his surroundings and acted purposely within them,” Collins said. She added: “His conduct then was purposeful and goal-directed rather than frenzied and out of control.”
Dr. Robert H. Gordon, a state-appointed psychologist, agreed that Dickerson suffered from a depressive disorder. He also said Dickerson was “malingering,” or lying and making up a mental disease to avoid punishment.
Dickerson told Gordon he often heard “whispering” voices in his head, Gordon testified.
A psychiatrist hired by the defense is expected to testify Wednesday that Dickerson suffered from a mental disease and that it is “much less clear” whether he was aware of his actions, Dade said.
The defense must prove that Dickerson suffered from a disease that caused him to not know right from wrong, District Attorney Phil Koss said. The prosecution doesn’t need to prove anything but will show that Dickerson was sane, Koss said.
“The evidence will show you … while he made bad decisions, while life was tough for him at the time, he made decisions, and he has to take responsibility for what he did, and he did know right from wrong,” Koss said.
Police officers who were on the scene are expected to testify and say Dickerson seemed sane during the crime and afterward, Koss said in his opening statement. Police will testify that Dickerson wanted Schmidt’s bulletproof vest for his protection, that he told Schmidt he was afraid of going to prison for life and that he later apologized to Schmidt at the sheriff’s department, Koss said.
“He’s very aware of the consequences of his acts,” Koss said.
Dickerson was admittedly drunk when he took Schmidt hostage and fired her revolver at other officers arriving at the house on North Walworth Road.
Dickerson and his wife, Gabrielle, had been arguing, and they had many problems in the months before the incident, Dickerson told Collins.
Walworth County Health and Human Services had taken the couple’s two children from them, and Dickerson was paying child support to another woman for a child he fathered in Arizona, Collins testified. Both Robbie and Gabrielle also alleged infidelity, he said.
Robbie Dickerson experienced frequent anxiety attacks and was taking medication for them.
If Dickerson is found sane, he faces up to 114½ years in prison. If he is found to have had a mental disease, he could be sentenced to a state mental institution for an indefinite time or released.