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Western State Hospital cancels accused killer's release into community

Lawrence Butterfield (KOMO file photo)

TACOMA, Wash. - Responding to concerns from the community, state officials this week withdrew an earlier request to release an accused mentally ill murderer from Western State Hospital, says Pierce County Prosecutor Mark Lindquist.

In a prepared statement released Wednesday, Lindquist thanked Gov. Jay Inslee and officials at the Department of Social and Health Services for listening to community concerns about the pending release of Lawrence Butterfield, who was charged with murder in 2010 for stabbing his roommate to death.

Butterfield told the arresting officer at the time of the murder that he had been hearing voices that told him to kill his roommate. The murder charge was dismissed when he was found incompetent to stand trial. The Pierce County Prosecutor’s Office refiled the murder charge three times, and each time Butterfield was found incompetent to stand trial.

But mental evaluators at the hospital eventually found improvement in Butterfield and began proposing a conditional release back into the community this month.

In a letter to Gov. Jay Inslee dated Sept. 1, Lindquist requested that the governor prevent officials at the psychiatric hospital from releasing Butterfield, who Lindquist described as a "schizophrenic, intellectually disabled man with a long history of violent behavior."

In the letter, Lindquist cited reports from Western State Hospital that Butterfield was hearing voices and was a “moderate to high risk for future dangerous behavior.”

“Mr. Butterfield has serious, well-documented mental health issues. ... If he is well enough to be released into the community, then he ought to be well enough to be held accountable for the murder from 2010,” said Lindquist.

After Inslee received Lindquist's letter, Western State Hospital notified the Prosecutor’s Office that it had withdrawn Butterfield’s proposed conditional release.

“We appreciate the communication with officials at Western State and will work with them on this and any other proposed release of residents that potentially impact the safety of our communities in Pierce County,” said Lindquist after Butterfield's release was canceled.

Court records show in 1979 Butterfield was charged with assault with intent to kill in Lewis County and was found not guilty by reason of insanity and committed to Western State in 1980. In 2002, Western State conditionally released Butterfield into Pierce County.

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