Jonathan Robert Meline, who chopped his father to death with a hatchet two years ago, is headed for Western State Hospital, where he’s likely to spend the rest of his life.
Monday, Meline, 30, entered a plea of not guilty by reason of insanity to a charge of first-degree murder. The plea ended a complicated series of legal maneuvers that began Oct. 25, 2012, when Meline turned himself in to Tacoma police and admitted killing his father, Robert.
“The case is over,” deputy prosecutor Stephen Penner said. “It’s been fully adjudicated. It’s a final verdict.”
The verdict was a long time coming. At various points over the past 20 months, Meline’s defense attorneys argued that the defendant was incompetent rather than insane.
The difference was significant. A finding of incompetence would have meant Meline lacked the mental capacity to understand the legal proceedings against him. In theory, that would mean shorter-term commitment at the state mental hospital, and a possible release.
The insanity verdict carries heavier consequences. It means a mandatory commitment at the state hospital for a term equivalent to the sentence that would have followed a guilty verdict. While Meline can petition for release in the future, a judge and state mental-health experts would have to authorize it. Penner said that was unlikely.
Before the slaying, Meline had a long history of contacts with the state mental health system. In 2011, he was charged with robbery after he tried to run a man over with a stolen car. He was found incompetent to stand trial on those charges. He was released from Western State in early 2012.
A new state law backed by the Pierce County prosecutor’s office and passed in 2013 added additional restrictions on such releases.
Diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia, Meline harbored delusions that his parents were replaced by evil duplicates as part of a conspiracy to kill children. He even told his father he planned to kill him.
Robert Meline, a teacher in the Bethel School District, didn’t take the threat seriously. But his son carried it out, creeping into his father’s bedroom with a hatchet in the early hours of the morning.
Kim Meline, Jonathan’s mother, told The News Tribune she feared her son’s release if he were found incompetent to stand trial. She hoped for an insanity verdict, wanting her son to be institutionalized for the rest of his life.
She could not be reached for comment Monday, but she told KOMO TV that the insanity verdict was appropriate.
“This is the best that I could hope for,” she said.
Sean Robinson: 253-597-8486