Brutal murder prompts changes to mental health laws

OLYMPIA, Wash. -- The {A href=""}gruesome murder of a Tacoma man, allegedly committed by his own mentally-ill son, has brought a call for changes in the law.

Prosecutors believe there's a loophole in the law that allows violent criminals to walk free, but a new bill in the state legislature could soon close it.

The case of Jonathan Meline has revealed what prosecutors call a dangerous gap in the law. Meline is accused of murdering his father, Rob, with a hatchet at their Tacoma home last October.

"It's highly disturbing," said Pierce County Prosecutor Mark Lindquist.

Lindquist said it's also disturbing that Meline had recently been released from Western State Hospital, where he was sent for a mental evaluation following an alleged violent car theft. Prosecutors were never told of the release, because state law doesn't require it.

The law also doesn't require the hospital to hold onto those accused of violent crimes if they're deemed incompetent to stand trial, even if it's believed they may offend again.

A psychologist said that was the case with Meline because of his schizophrenia. His own family believed he was too dangerous to be around.

"I think we all should be able to expect that he would stay civilly committed and he would stay in treatment and will stay off our streets until he's safe to be released back into our community," Lindquist said.

After the Meline murder, Lindquist put out a call to change the law. State lawmakers heard that call, and a bill has been drafted. It will get its first hearing next week.

"There is this gap through which violent offenders fit and this would change the standards," said Rep. Jamie Pedersen, the bill's sponsor.

Pedersen said his bill would allow suspected violent offenders to be locked up longer at mental hospitals. And when they eventually are released, prosecutors would be alerted so charges could be re-filed before the suspect walks free.

The public hearing on HB 1114 is set for next Thursday at 1:30 p.m. In the House Judiciary Committee in Olympia.