Thursday, Apr 17, 2014

Man responsible for fatal crash found not guilty by insanity

Published:   |   Updated: December 13, 2013 at 09:49 AM

BROOKSVILLE - Richard Barrett, racing up U.S. 19 in his Ford Windstar on the morning of Feb. 15, 2012, hit at least three cars on his rampage.

The last vehicle Barrett hit was Charles Hesser's Toyota Tacoma pickup, which flipped several times before coming to rest as a mangled piece of metal.

Hesser, a 72-year-old retiree who spent his winters in Weeki Wachee and summers in Illinois, was covered in blood when he was wheeled into surgery at Regional Medical Center Bayonet Point, and jokingly asked medical personnel if he'd be ready to golf the next day.

In April 2012 - 50 days after the accident - Hesser died in the hospital.

Barrett, of Port Richey, told investigators after the crash he was a "speed racer" trying to see how fast he could drive. After his minivan stopped running north of State Road 50, Barrett kicked a female deputy in the stomach, and had to be tasered before being taken into custody. Witnesses described Barrett as "crazy" and "reckless."

Last week, Judge Daniel Merritt Jr. signed off on an order that adjudicated Barrett not guilty by reason of insanity for the crash that killed Hesser.

The order included summaries of three doctors who independently examined Barrett in 2012. Each found him either "insane" or "not sane" at the time of the crash.

Conditions of Barrett's release include no drugs or alcohol, no bars, no driving without a valid driver's license, which was suspended by an earlier court order. Barrett, now 40, will continue psychiatric treatment at Baycare, comply with the doctor's orders and continue to take his psychotropic medications.

A report on his progress will be sent to Merritt, as well as the public defender's and state attorney's offices, every six months. It will take another court order before Barrett can be discharged from his conditional release, which could take years, according to Assistant State Attorney Bill Catto, who prosecuted the case.

"It could go on to the statutory maximum . 30 years," Catto said, adding it was "too early to tell" how long the conditional release would last, and that the length of time was "entirely up to the court."

The outcome of this case, as well as related cases in Hernando and Pasco counties, aren't good enough for Brenda Hesser, Charles Hesser's widow.

"I just feel he should be punished more," Brenda Hesser said by phone on Tuesday. "I know he has a mental problem, he should still be punished more."

Hesser, who believes Barrett is bipolar, has sat through court proceedings for the past year, watching Barrett be acquitted by reason of insanity or having the charges against him dropped in two counties.

Both Brenda Hesser and her friends, including Judi Tuggle, believe the Florida laws should be changed so mentally ill offenders still receive some sort of punishment.

"If she was younger, I think they (the State) would battle for it," Tuggle said. "At her age, it's too much for her to take on right now."

Brenda Hesser hoped to speak in court at Barrett's last pre-trial on Friday but learned on Thursday there would be no hearing. Judge Merritt had already signed off on the order on Dec. 2., and Barrett was granted conditional release.

Brenda Hesser said she was able to give a statement in court in Pasco County.

"I think he (Barrett) knows how I feel . He did sit there and cry and I'm sure he's heartbroken," Brenda Hesser said. "I don't feel the laws in Florida are right, there's not a whole lot I can do about it, it's not going to bring Chuck back."

Catto said he didn't believe Hesser was allowed to speak as Barrett was found not guilty by reason of insanity.

"It's not like a sentencing," Catto said. "It's a matter she and I had spoken about . unfortunately, under these circumstances, it's the only way the case could go."

Barrett was already found insane for offenses that occurred right before and after the accident that killed Hesser, Catto said.

Barrett's attorney, Lisa Martin of the public defender's office, said her client was "doing very well" as far as she knows, and complying with the court's orders.

Now that Barrett's cases have been settled, Hesser said she still wants to know where Barrett is and his progress, and hopes "he does good for his community."

In the nearly-two years since her husband's death, Hesser said she's been surrounded by good friends and her children.

"The hardest time is at night when you're by yourself," Hesser said. "During the day, you can keep busy. At night there's no one there to talk to."

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