Prosser man acquitted by reason of insanity released

Tyler Richardson, Tri-City HeraldOctober 4, 2013 

A Prosser man who handcuffed and kidnapped two brothers at gunpoint last year will be released back into the community instead of going to a psychiatric hospital.

Rodolfo Hurtado -- who was acquitted by reason of insanity of first-degree kidnapping and second-degree assault charges -- can live at his family's home in Prosser as long as he abides by the conditions of his release, a judge ruled Friday.

The 27-year-old is on lifetime supervision and will be supervised by the Department of Corrections.

"He is not supposed to be detained in a mental health facility unless he poses a risk," said Megan Whitmire, Benton County deputy prosecutor. "Currently it doesn't look like he does. He seems to be doing well. We will see and it is something we will monitor very closely."

A medical condition called hypothyroidism, which causes an underactive thyroid gland, caused Hurtado to go into a psychosis, medical experts said at a previous hearing. Hypothyroidism can cause hallucinations, delusions and paranoid thoughts.

Hurtado was experiencing psychosis on April 13, 2012, when he pretended to be a police officer and handcuffed the two brothers while they were attending their sister's funeral at a Prosser cemetery, medical experts said at a previous hearing. Hurtado then put the brothers into a vehicle and had another man drive them toward the Prosser police station so they could be "interrogated."

The vehicle was reportedly stopped after Hurtado flagged down a Benton County sheriff's deputy. Hurtado, who was a passenger in the vehicle, was arrested.

Around the time of the incident, Hurtado began to experience some of the effects of hypothyroidism, he said in court Friday. Hurtado reported he would wake up in the middle of the night and see people in his room.

"I felt very weird," he said. "I started feeling differently. I started seeing things that weren't there."

Hurtado, who has no prior felony convictions, spent more than two months at Eastern State Hospital following the incident. There, he was diagnosed with hypothyroidism, court documents said.

Hurtado entered a plea of not guilty by reason of insanity in February. A judge ruled he was insane during the 2012 incident and could not tell right from wrong.

Hurtado could have been sent to the psychiatric hospital in Medical Lake, where he would have had to spend at least a year before he was considered for release.

Instead, Superior Court Judge Robert Swisher's ruling will allow Hurtado to live at home while he continues treatment with a team of medical experts.

Swisher based his ruling on the opinion of medical experts who previously reported they did not believe Hurtado was a risk to the community.

Swisher, who called Hurtado's case "bizarre," said the opinion of Richland psychologist Dr. Philip Barnard weighed heavily in his decision. Barnard previously testified that he thought Hurtado was not a threat.

Hurtado will now have to abide by a set of strict guidelines that call for him to refrain from drugs and alcohol, not own any firearms, pay for his treatment and stay on his medication.

If Hurtado violates any release conditions, he will be taken to jail and a court hearing will be scheduled to determine if he should be sent to the psychiatric hospital, Whitmire said. There is a possibility Hurtado could be committed to the facility for life if he violates his release conditions.

Hurtado potentially could have to pay restitution to his victims, who both needed surgery as a result of the incident. Swisher signed a lifetime no-contact order between Hurtado and the brothers.

Hurtado, who says he now feels "healthy," has no intention of violating the conditions of his release, he said. He wants to go back to school to try and finish the last few credits he needs to graduate college.

"Ever since this happened I have experienced a lot embarrassment and shame," he said in court.

He went on to say he now has the support system in place to get help if he starts to experience any problems related to his condition.

"Doctors are there to help (me)," he said. "If I ever feel abnormal again, the first thing I need to do is seek medical attention."

Whitmire is taking a wait-and-see approach to determine if Hurtado's release is good for the community. The uniqueness of the case makes it difficult to gauge if the supervision will be effective, she said.

"It is just a really unusual situation," she said. "I can tell you when I spoke to the local DOC officers, none of them have ever done this. There are concerns we are dealing with."

-- Tyler Richardson: 582-1556; trichardson@tricityherald.com; Twitter: @Ty_richardson

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