Depressed Falls robber found not responsible — (The Milwaukee Journal)

SSRI Ed note: Depressed and suicidal man, long time user of antidepressants which obviously were not working, robs a store. Found NCR, sentenced to mental health facility.

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The Milwaukee Journal

January 13, 1995

Author: JESSICA McBRIDE,  The Journal staff

Waukesha – The robber shot by a Menomonee Falls liquor store owner will not be held criminally responsible for the heist because he suffered from major depression when it occurred, a judge has ruled.  Waukesha County Circuit Judge Lee S. Dreyfus Jr. on Thursday found Gerald Olkowski, 33, not guilty of armed robbery by reason of mental disease or defect. Olkowski had pleaded no contest to the charge.

The reason for the finding: Olkowski has suffered from major depression throughout his life, which worsened shortly before the robbery when his wife announced she was divorcing him, the judge said.  Olkowski understood his behavior was wrong when he robbed Rod’s Beer & Liquor Mart, N89-W15949 Main St., on Sept. 10 with a foot-long knife, two court-appointed psychiatrists reported, Dreyfus said.

The doctors also said Olkowski’s depression was so severe that he was unable to stop himself from committing the crime, the crucial point in the finding, Dreyfus said.  When prosecutors said they had no evidence to rebut the doctors’ findings, Dreyfus sentenced Olkowski to a maximum of 26 years in a mental health facility. Olkowski will be able to petition the court for early release.

`A Sad Case’

“This is a sad case,” said Craig Mastantuono, Olkowski’s public defender. “I think the person who ended up being most hurt in this offense was himself. He was not surprised he was shot in the offense. His purpose was to get hurt.”

Olkowski claims he robbed the store for money to travel to Milwaukee, where he planned to kill himself at his brother’s house, Mastantuono said. When apprehended hours later, Olkowski had lacerated his wrists, he said.   Olkowski was released from the Waukesha County Mental Health Center just days before he committed the robbery, although he had requested to stay longer because he felt unstable, Mastantuono said.

Michael DeMares, clinical manager at the Mental Health Center, said he could not comment on Olkowski’s case because of  confidentiality.  However, he said that in general, patients are released when a psychiatrist determines it is no longer medically necessary to keep the patient. Often, out-patient treatment is then arranged, he said.

Olkowski faced 40 years in prison for the robbery, during which he pulled out the knife and stuck it near the chest of store owner Kazem Barakat.   “I ask him, `Do you need any help?’ ” Barakat recalled at Olkowski’s preliminary hearing. “He says, `I need your money.’ ”

Olkowski took $200 and cigarettes. Barakat testified that he shot at Olkowski six times because he feared for his life when Olkowski appeared to be reaching down near his shoe or boot. Olkowski suffered minor leg injuries.

Owner Could Have Been Charged

The case received much attention because criminal charges were considered against Barakat for the shooting. District Attorney Paul Bucher decided not to file charges, in large part because he did not believe a jury would convict Barakat. Barakat was not present at Thursday’s hearing.

“Clearly he placed the store owner in jeopardy,” Dreyfus said. “But his rational side could not control his desire to commit suicide by any means possible.”  Olkowski has a 25-year history of mental problems and chemical dependency, and will be sent to the Winnebago Mental Health Institute.

William Crowley, one of the psychiatrists who examined Olkowski, said after the hearing that major depression can be just as disabling as other mental illnesses.  Assistant District Attorney William Roach said there was a difference between major depression and the depression suffered by many people. Olkowski has strong suicidal tendencies and throughout his life has been on prescription medication, including Prozac. 

Copyright 1995 Journal/Sentinel Inc.
Record Number:  MLWK224919