Leslie Blankenship thought her mother’s murderer would be put away in the state’s custody until 2099 only to find herself agonizing through numerous fitness hearings quietly looking on as he attempts to get more privileges and freedoms.
In 2004, Lawrence Hucksteadt doused 69-year-old Ellen Polivka with gasoline and set her on fire as she sat at her receptionist desk at the Centegra Behavioral Health center in Woodstock. She died weeks later.
Six years later, Hucksteadt was found not guilty by reason of insanity and committed to the custody of the Illinois Department of Human Services. He has since been confined to the Elgin Mental Health Center.
Blankenship said over the years she has sat through more than a dozen hearings as her mother’s killer attempts to get more freedoms, all part of th process to eventually re-acclimate back into society.
Last year Hucksteadt was in court asking that he be allowed to go out into the community on supervised group “reintegration trips.” The excursions that last about four hours and occur three times a year typically include eight patients and three therapy aides. The group takes a bus from the facility and visits Elgin’s Gail Borden library, the recreation center and they have lunch in a local restaurant.
The purpose of these “highly structured” day trips is to reintroduce the patients, without cuffs or waist chains, to living among the community in order to, at some point, place them in housing outside the facility, explained Dr. Richard Malis who treats Hucksteadt at the facility.
He currently is clinically and behaviorally stable, allowed unsupervised passes between buildings on the property, and has had no violations, Malis said.
Last year, McHenry County judge Michael Feetterer ruled that he would only grant the off-site request if Hucksteadt were escorted by two security guards.
But at a hearing held in McHenry County courthouse last month, authorities said due to staffing and the concern that uniformed guards would alter the nature of the trips, Hucksteadt has not been allowed on the day trips.
Malis said the presence of a uniformed security guard on those tips would be “detrimental” to the other patients and “counterproductive” to the purpose of the outings.
Assistant Public Defender Kim Messer described Hucksteadt as a “leader” within the facility and argued that he has been compliant with all his treatments, has had no altercations, properly takes his medications and attends mental illness and AA meetings. He also successfully completed an off-site substance abuse program last year at the Renz Addiction Center while escorted by a security guard without incident.
Messer said it is “unnecessary” to require security guards. She said no other patient has required such an escort.
Hucksteadt has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder and depression, has experienced psychosis, visual and auditory hallucinations and delusions, Malis has testified.
However, Malis and the facility’s chief of security William Epperson each testified that Hucksteadt is compliant with his treatment, has not had any violent outbursts in recent years and is not a threat to the community.
At the hearing, Assistant State’s Attorney Michael Combs cautioned Judge James Cowlin, (currently hearing the case since Feetterer has been assigned to another courtroom)to be careful in his ruling noting the horrific crime Hucksteadt committed. “This is your name going on this …,” Combs told Cowlin.
Combs said asking for un-uniformed security guards is “not unreasonable” to protect the community.
Cowlin asked Epperson if it would be possible to provide one or two plain clothed security guards to which Epperson said “I could make it work.”
But this did little to ease Blankenship’s anguish. She said she is “drained” by the never-ending court hearings. She believed that once he was committed she would not have to ever worry about him being among the public.
Outside the courtroom Blankenship wept as she said she feared him being near small children or families. She also fears for her own safety if he ever is released.
“It’s not right,” she said adding that he is mentally ill and that it is not a curable disease. “This is just the first step to integrating him into society. He is very unstable. He’s a murderer.”
Cowlin could rule March 22.