Prosecutor needs to come clean

"It was a Catch-22 that would have confounded even the late Joseph Heller’s Yossarian:“We can’t prosecute you, Mr. Leonard, because you’re too paranoid to stand trial; but we can’t keep you in a mental institution because...well, we’re not saying, but here’s the door – out you go.”But this suggests that the strange case of Eagle Harbor liveaboard Ralph F. Leonard plays as farce. It does not."

  • Sunday, December 19, 1999 4:00pm
  • News

“It was a Catch-22 that would have confounded even the late Joseph Heller’s Yossarian:“We can’t prosecute you, Mr. Leonard, because you’re too paranoid to stand trial; but we can’t keep you in a mental institution because…well, we’re not saying, but here’s the door – out you go.”But this suggests that the strange case of Eagle Harbor liveaboard Ralph F. Leonard plays as farce. It does not. And now that he is again behind bars, his September release from Western State Hospital, despite outstanding charges of the attempted murder of a Bainbridge Police officer, demands explanation.Leonard was arrested last winter for allegedly firing a shotgun at police, grazing the forehead of Sgt. Scott Weiss, as officers boarded his boat to serve a warrant. This followed several incidents in which Leonard allegedly menaced neighboring boaters with a firearm and a martial arts throwing star. After a series of pre-trial psychiatric evaluations, Leonard was remanded to Western State Hospital for treatment, then released without explanation – and the attempted murder charges dropped. It would be a full two months before prosecutors would refile their complaint against Leonard, and another month still before police were able to place him in custody.Leonard is, we should point out, presumed innocent until proven otherwise, and he deserves a vigorous and capable defense.But the portrait painted by psychiatrists during Leonard’s stint in Western State is troubling – a sad picture of a mind warped by decades of alcohol abuse, to the point that the suspect was, in the words of one doctor, “unable to understand the nature of the court proceedings against him, due to his rather well-developed paranoid delusions.”Neither did Leonard deny the charges of firing a .410 gauge shotgun loaded with slugs at a Bainbridge policeman. In one interview, he told authorities, “I had a sight on (the officer’s) eye…His family had better be god darned thankful.”We certainly are. That Weiss is still alive to serve this community – is alive, period – is a blessing. Now comes a period of accounting, both for Leonard and the court system that failed this community so miserably.Kitsap County Prosecutor Russ Hauge owes the voters of Bainbridge Island a frank explanation as to why a man accused of shooting a police officer in the face was allowed to roam free for two months, while Hauge’s office scratched its collective head and fiddled around with paperwork. Hiding behind the legal veil of the civil commitment process won’t do. We need some assurance that this absurd cycle won’t just repeat itself.We’ll give you the space, Russ. Drop us a line. For now, we can all breathe easier that Ralph Leonard is again behind bars, his case awaiting adjudication. We hope the system gets it right this time, and that Leonard can get the help that state mental health authorities believe he so desperately needs.We do not presume guilt – he’ll have his day in court. But we can’t help but hope his day in this community is over.”

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