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Akron Beacon Journal
Posted on Mon, Sep. 15, 2003
Beacon Journal staff writer
His thoughts and words, kept in a journal during the months before the slaying of 17-year-old JoLynn Mishne, tell two distinctly different tales — of murder plots and suicide attempts and seemingly sincere pleas for help.
But which tale reflects the real Dustin Lynch?
A Medina Juvenile Court judge, ruling in May that the 16-year-old should be tried as an adult in Mishne’s murder, called him “profoundly disordered,” angry, anti-social, brutal and self-absorbed.
Today, another judge will hold a hearing to determine if Lynch is mentally competent to assist in his defense at trial.
If it is found that he is, Lynch could be allowed to replace his court-appointed lawyer with one who contends a violent video game drove Lynch to kill.
Lynch, who remains in the Medina County Jail awaiting possible trial next month, did not testify in the previous hearing. For two days, a detective described how Mishne, who had taken Lynch into her home as a friend, was found beaten and stabbed to death last November.
Lynch’s mother, 36-year-old Jerrilyn Thomas of Medina, defended her only son, saying in a recent interview that someone in the juvenile justice system should have listened when he asked for help — but no one did.
“Even now,” she says of her visits with him at the county jail, “he says he’s having a hard time concentrating. He sees fireflies. He hears people talking, and there’s nobody there.
“He has trouble sleeping, all kinds of stuff, and nobody will address that. He’s sitting there doing absolutely nothing.
“He’s not allowed to get counseling. He wants to go to church, but he’s not allowed to. And that’s wrong. People are totally forgetting he’s a 16-year-old boy and that he needs counseling.”
It’s getting worse
In his journal, written in careful penmanship and put together in verse, Lynch had just turned 15 when he wrote this passage during one of his many stays at the Medina County Juvenile Detention Center:
“I have been plotting things for others I want to die, then I realize what I’m doing and break down and cry.
“I’m telling you this now because it’s getting worse and harder for me to control. I tried to kill myself and that’s very cold.
“I tried to kill myself because I don’t want to deal with these problems that I have. Is there somebody who can help me when I’m sad.
“I’m crazy, I’m crazy, and nobody really knows. That why I think it’s the time to expose.”
The entry was dated Feb. 27, 2002, nine months before JoLynn Mishne’s father, 73-year-old Merle “Mickey” Mishne, found her body in the upstairs bedroom of their home in Montville Township.
Violent video game
According to testimony during the May hearings, Mishne had been beaten in the head with a bedpost and stabbed with a kitchen knife, which was left protruding from her abdomen.
Mickey Mishne said his daughter invited Lynch to stay at their home — a week before the Nov. 2 killing — because she felt sorry for him.
They apparently met, he said, on the night of Oct. 24 when JoLynn Mishne drove to a local restaurant to pick up a friend who worked there. He said his daughter told him Lynch was homeless and had nowhere to sleep.
Mickey Mishne has theorized that the motivation for the killing came from the violent video game Grand Theft Auto III, which Lynch had been playing constantlyat the home of one of JoLynn Mishne’s friends in the days before her murder, he said.
He believes the game — in which scores are raised for beating a victim to death — warped Lynch’s mind and lured him into a copycat killing.
He made those comments in a lengthy letter to Juvenile Court Judge John J. Lohn, who made the decision to transfer the case to adult court.
Mishne’s letter was co-signed by his estranged wife, Laurie Mishne, who said in a recent interview that she supports his position.
However, there was only passing mention of the video game during testimony and cross-examination of witnesses, and Lohn made no mention of it in his written decision.
Mickey Mishne said he is deeply disappointed by the omission. He said he was upset not only with Lohn but with Lynch’s first court-appointed lawyer, John J. Dolatowski, and Medina County Prosecutor Dean Holman.
“It’s as if they were overlooking a murder weapon,” Mishne said.
Lynch’s mother criticized
Lohn, who has refused to comment on Mishne’s claims even though he is no longer involved in the case, based his ruling on Lynch’s “long, unsuccessful history with the juvenile justice system” and his poor family upbringing.
No juvenile sanction, the judge wrote, deterred Lynch from progressively worse behavior.
He went from being wayward and truant to committing misdemeanors, to committing the felony theft of a family minivan in March 2002, to “the alleged murder… of a helpless girl,” Lohn wrote.
But the judge directed his harshest criticism at Lynch’s mother, who has been married, according to court records, four times.
“His mother is an ineffective parent,” Lohn wrote. “The male influences in the juvenile’s life were his mother’s many husbands and boyfriends. These men, with the exception of the current husband, were abusive and demeaning.”
Those factors were so overwhelming, Lohn concluded, that his decision was not a close call.
Thomas left the courtroom in tears on the final day of testimony, refusing to comment on the lambasting from Lohn. She said she is speaking out now because she wants to set the record straight about how the juvenile justice system handled the case.
Thomas said her son was placed on the anti-depressant drug Paxil in April 2002 after he stole the van. Then he was abruptly taken off it by medical staff at the Medina County Juvenile Detention Center when he said he did not like how the drug made him feel.
“He was up and down constantly,” Thomas said.
She said he should have been slowly weaned off the drug under a doctor’s care to lessen the possibility of sudden mood swings.
Jodi Smith, Lynch’s juvenile probation officer, testified that he tried to commit suicide twice while at the detention center. Once, he tried to hang himself, she said. The second time, she said, he tried to cut his arms.
Thomas said she was never told about either of the attempts. She found out, she said, when she saw marks on his arms after his release.
After seeing the marks, Thomas said she was angry and called the detention center superintendent, Garland R. Brown Jr., to ask him why no one called her to tell her about it.
Thomas said Brown told her it was against policy to call because detention center personnel determined the attempts were not life-threatening.
“That was so wrong,” Thomas said.
Corrections officer Brad Hammer testified about another time when he found Lynch sitting in the corner of his room, bleeding from the forehead. He said Lynch had banged his head against the wall and wrote threats on the floor in his own blood.
Thomas said she learned about that incident for the first time during the May hearings.
“I felt like a bomb went off inside me in that courtroom,” she said.
“Now they’re pointing fingers at me trying to say I’m a bad mom. But how am I supposed to address the issues when… they’re withholding this stuff from me?”
Thomas also disputed the testimony of court-appointed psychologist Thomas M. Evans of the Center for Clinical Psychology in North Ridgeville. From an in-depth interview of Lynch, Evans said the youth had battled a “chronic course of depression since an early age” and felt “thrown away” by his mother and the men she dated and married, with the exception of her current husband, 38-year-old Shaun Thomas, whom he described as a positive influence.
Thomas said her son has a loving relationship with her and that he has bonded with her husband. As proof, she produced a letter that her son sent to her from the Medina County Jail in July.
Lynch had addressed it to “Mom and Dad” and drew hearts around the words. He also wrote his name on his return address as “Dustin Lynch Thomas.”
In various sections of his journals, however, Lynch wrote about extremely violent thoughts toward some of his friends and his biological father.
He wrote about his desire to go on a robbery and killing spree so that his friends and family could watch him in a car chase on the “5, 6 and 10 o’clock news… just like O.J. Simpson.”
He wrote about an incident in which he claimed he walked up to a kid crossing the street, spun him around “and hit him as hard as I could three times.” Then he claimed he dragged the kid into the woods and “beat him with trees and rocks until he was a bloody mess.”
“I never got in trouble for it, and I was proud of that,” he wrote.
Lynch also wrote about his favorite author, best-selling novelist James Patterson, and his chief protagonist, the crafty homicide detective Alex Cross.
“I think about how I could get away with murders and violence in the book,” Lynch wrote. “I read and read and thoughts and ideas is what I took.”
Although Lynch did not refer to a specific Patterson novel, one of the author’s most acclaimed works is Jack And Jill, in which perpetrators taunt police and FBI by leaving “Jack and Jill” poems at the scenes of murders.
Lynch, according to testimony by the lead investigator in the case, Medina County Sheriff’s Detective James F. Foraker, left a note near JoLynn Mishne’s body. Foraker said the note taunted police with an obscenity and that Lynch also threatened a girlfriend, saying she would be his next victim.
Although the court heard little testimony to separate the facts and fiction in Lynch’s journals, his mother said she thinks he made up most of it.
She said her son is very intelligent, artistic and a creative storyteller. The violent passages in the journal, she said, were simply juvenile braggadocio.
However, she also said Lynch had a definite purpose in mind when one of his journals was found by corrections officers after his first suicide attempt.
“I think the first journal was found because he intended for somebody to find it,” she said.
She said he did that because he desperately wanted help.
In the journals, Lynch repeatedly asked for help and said: “I hate myself more each day, for I think it’s amusing to watch people beg for their life and God help me I know this ain’t right. So can somebody diagnos [sic] me and cure me, okay, so I can live for another day.”
Video game defense
Lynch recently entered a written plea of not guilty by reason of insanity through his second court-appointed lawyer, V. Lee Winchell of Rittman.
Before trial is set, Medina County Common Pleas Judge Christopher J. Collier, who now presides over the case, wants to determine if Lynch is competent to assist in his defense.
“Dustin Lynch is going to want to say something,” the judge said, “and I’m going to want to listen to him.”
The competency hearing was held up for weeks as the court awaited a second psychological evaluation of Lynch from the Summit County Psycho-Diagnostic Center.
After that hearing is complete, Collier said he will rule on pending issues in the case, one of which is a motion for a new lawyer to represent Lynch.
The motion came from John B. Thompson, a lawyer from Coral Gables, Fla., with the approval of Lynch and his mother. Thompson has made a name for himself nationally in a crusade against the makers of violent video games.
Mickey Mishne, JoLynn Mishne’s father, said he strongly supports having Thompson introduce the video game defense and now calls him his “adviser.”
He said he has taken that position because he does not want other parents to experience what he and JoLynn Mishne’s mother will be enduring “for the rest of our lives.”
About the case
Dustin J. Lynch is charged with aggravated murder in the Nov. 2 killing of 17-year-old JoLynn Mishne.
In May, a judge decided Lynch, who was 15 at the time of the killing, should be tried as an adult.
In July, Lynch entered a plea of not guilty by reason of insanity through his court-appointed lawyer.
Today, a judge begins a hearing to determine if Lynch is mentally competent to assist at his trial.