Insanity defense works; Ruled ‘not guilty’ in mother’s murder

By Brian Knox | Published Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Kirk Heithecker has been found not guilty by reason of insanity in the death of his 75-year-old mother over Mother’s Day weekend.

Kirk Heithecker

Because he waived his right to a jury trial, Heithecker’s murder trial was held Tuesday in front of 271st District Judge John Fostel, who issued the ruling. At the beginning of the trial, Heithecker’s attorney, Bill Ray, said his client was pleading not guilty by reason of insanity.

The Wise County District Attorney’s office, represented by Assistant District Attorney Tim Cole, did not contest the plea.

Sheriff’s deputy James O’Bannon testified about his encounter with the 49-year-old Heithecker on the afternoon of May 12 at the home he shared with his mother in the 700 block of County Road 4270 a few miles south of Decatur. Heithecker’s sister had come by the home that day to bring a Mother’s Day present to her mom, but Heithecker told her their mom was dead. The sister then called police.

Officers found Heithecker sitting in a swing in front of the home. O’Bannon testified that when they asked him where his mother was, Heithecker responded “In hell.”

He told the officers he had killed her “with the heel of his foot” and that he “had crushed her senses.” When asked where his mother’s body was, Heithecker pointed to a pile of garbage in the front yard. Officers found his victim’s body at the bottom of the pile.

While placing Heithecker under arrest, officers had to twice deploy a stun gun.

Cole asked if Heithecker said anything while he was being placed under arrest.

“He was saying he was a Christian soldier, and he could feel the energy flowing through his body,” O’Bannon said.

It was not O’Bannon’s first encounter with Heithecker. The deputy said he and another deputy were called to the location in January when Heithecker’s mother, Nancy, said her son had been in his room all day, and she was worried about his welfare. O’Bannon said they went into his room and saw a body on the bed underneath blankets stained with blood and feces. O’Bannon said he pulled the covers back to see Heithecker staring at him with his eyes wide open.

The officer noticed he had a large gash on his left arm and a large pool of blood on the bed.

“He said Kirk had died, and now he was ‘The Jesus Christ,’ and that was the only way he would respond to us,” O’Bannon said.

Heithecker was transported to Parkland Hospital in Dallas for treatment of his wound and psychiatric evaluation.

The next time O’Bannon saw Heithecker was the day before his arrest, when a neighbor complained that water from the Heithecker property was flowing onto his property. Heithecker wouldn’t come to the door, and once again he would only respond to the name Jesus Christ.

O’Bannon testified that he saw some of Nancy’s beloved ferrets running around loose in the front yard and remembered that she had mentioned how much they meant to her in the earlier encounter. He said he found it strange to see them outside the home.

The next day, after officers had detained Heithecker and placed him in the back of a patrol car, Captain Kevin Benton with the Wise County Sheriff’s Office arrived to continue the investigation.

Benton testified that after seeing Nancy’s body, which appeared to have suffered “blunt force trauma,” he spoke with Heithecker.

“He was in a very energized state,” Benton said. ” … He would get off topic. He sang a couple of times. He was almost in a manic state.”

Heithecker was arrested for murder and taken to the Wise County Jail.

Psychologist Dr. Jim Womack of Fort Worth testified that he met with Heithecker twice last month to evaluate him. He said he spoke with Heithecker about his history of mental illness – which began as early as age 19 – and his state of mind that weekend of his mother’s death.

Womack testified that after speaking with Heithecker and reviewing his previous history of mental illness, he determined that Heithecker was insane at the time of the murder, unable to grasp reality or know the difference between right or wrong.

Womack said it was also determined that Heithecker had stopped taking his anti-psychotic and mood stabilizer medications prior to both his suicide attempt in January and the incident in May that led to his mother’s death. Being off his medications led to delusions and auditory hallucinations such as hearing tapping on his window.

“He said that on the day of the crime, his mother was making squeaky sounds that were very threatening to him,” Womack said. ” … He said he thought his mother was trying to kill him, and he said he perceived she was reaching for a knife. At that point, he began striking her with his foot.”

Heithecker chose not to testify, but Ray asked him in court if he understood what had taken place in trial that morning and that he could spend the rest of his life in a hospital. Heithecker said he understood.

After being sent back to a state hospital for evaluation of his level of competency and his level of dangerousness, Cole said, Heithecker will be back in court within 30 days for his commitment hearing and then be committed to a state hospital.

Cole said he will appear again in six months and then annually after that to determine if he should remain hospitalized.

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