FREMONT — A Wisconsin man was found not guilty by reason of insanity in the October stabbings that left one dead and another seriously injured at an Ohio Turnpike plaza in Sandusky County.
Thomas Conner, 51, of Beloit, Wisconsin, had been charged with aggravated murder, murder, attempted murder and two counts of felony assault in the Oct. 19 attack at the Erie Islands Service Plaza on the highway toll near Clyde.
Judge Jon Ickes of the Sandusky County Common Pleas Court issued his decision after reviewing two different medical evaluations of Conner’s mental state.
In a judgment entry on the Sandusky County Clerk’s site, Ickes wrote that the court found Conner not guilty by reason of insanity on all five counts.
“Subject to institutionalization by court order”
“The court finds probable grounds to believe that the defendant is a mentally ill person subject to a court order or a person with intellectual disabilities subject to court-ordered institutionalization,” the statement said. hall.
The stabbing victim who died at the scene has been identified as David Diederich, 66, of La Porte, Indiana.
The second stabbing victim, Alan L. Austin, 53, of Delaware, Wisconsin, was airlifted by rescue helicopter to an area hospital and later released.
Sandusky County Sheriff Chris Hilton said it was a random attack, despite the suspect and surviving victim residing about 25 minutes apart in Wisconsin.
Hilton said Austin was in his van when Conner allegedly stabbed him in the chest.
Austin told authorities he thought he had been punched until he saw the knife come out of his chest.
After the stabbing, Austin was able to escape from his van and run to safety and to EMS workers who were in the plaza at the time of the incident.
Witness: “The guy was a bit wild”
Eyewitness Wayne Howell, of Syracuse, Indiana, who stopped at the turnpike plaza, said the suspect was incoherent and agitated in the plaza parking lot. He said he saw a person being stabbed in the chest around 5:17 p.m.
“The guy was a little wild,” Howell said. “He was starting to bother people. Half of what he was saying made no sense.”
Conner initially pleaded not guilty to the charges, then changed his plea to not guilty by reason of insanity in November.
He was shot at the scene by Sandusky County Sheriff’s Deputy Evan Ely after he refused to comply with orders after the stabbings and charged the officer in the parking lot of the plaza.
Sandusky County District Attorney Beth Tischler said she believes two medical professionals determined Conner to be of unsound mind based on their assessment and investigation.
“I understand the way his mental state would be that of someone who was hospitalized for a very long time,” Tischler said.
Ickes had ordered a second evaluation of Conner’s mental health in January.
According to the Ohio Office of the Public Defender, a person is not guilty by reason of insanity relating to an offense charge only if the person proves, in the manner specified in section 2901.05 of the Revised Code of ‘Ohio, that at the time of the commission of the offense the person did not know, by reason of serious mental illness or infirmity, the wrongfulness of his acts.
Sheriff proud of law enforcement response
Hilton said Conner will remain in local custody until a hearing is held to determine where to place the inmate.
Hilton said he would have liked to see Conner punished for what he had done, but the sheriff added that he defers to the legal system as to the insanity decision and how the case had been resolved.
The sheriff said he was proud of how the Sandusky County Sheriff’s Office and Ohio Highway Patrol handled the police response to the knife incident in October.
Ely arrived at the scene and made contact with the suspect, who was openly brandishing a knife.
The deputy initially used non-lethal force in an attempt to subdue Conner, but was unsuccessful, after which he shot the suspect with his firearm.
Ely was found guilty of using reasonable force by the county attorney’s office following an investigation by the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation.
The Courts site clerk notes that Conner is scheduled to be transported from the Erie County Jail to the Sandusky County Common Pleas Court on June 27 for a 2 p.m. decision hearing.
This article originally appeared on Fremont News-Messenger: Murder suspect’s insanity plea accepted in Turnpike Plaza murder case