Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Neighbors skeptical of progress


PUEBLO, Colo. — When Douglas Comiskey said he obeyed the whisperings of werewolves and stabbed to death two Catholic priests, some thought he would never leave the state mental hospital.

Eight years later, the paranoid-schizophrenic 29-year-old has twice visited his home a block away from where he killed the priests, spends eight hours a day on the streets without supervision and is planning to move to Denver in the next six months.

“He committed a horrible, horrible murder. I just assumed when he was that sick, he would always be at the hospital,” said retired Pueblo District Attorney Gus Sandstrom, who prosecuted Mr. Comiskey and closely watched his progress through the Colorado Mental Health Institute.

Although he originally felt that way, Mr. Sandstrom now agrees with Mr. Comiskey’s longtime public defender, Doug Wilson, that Mr. Comiskey has earned his privileges by taking therapy classes and by following hospital rules. Drugs given intravenously each month and blood tests ensure that he is medicated, Mr. Wilson said.

But Mr. Comiskey’s increasing privileges outside the hospital startled many of his neighbors. Even Mr. Comiskey’s supporters, including the brother of one of his victims, say the public is entitled to more information about his movements.

Some neighbors of St. Leander’s Church, where the Revs. Thomas Scheets, 65, and Louis Stovik, 77, were stabbed to death in 1996, say it is reckless to release Mr. Comiskey.

“It’s kind of scary because of what he did,” said Mary Lopez, 67, who lives on the same block and sings in the St. Leander’s choir with Mr. Comiskey’s adoptive mother. “Just like he got out of medication once, he could get out of it again.”

In high school, Mr. Comiskey was a good student and an excellent soccer player. But in the 11th grade, he began showing signs of mental illness and stole from his adoptive mother, Georgia Martinez.

After demonstrating bizarre behavior, Mr. Comiskey was committed to a psychiatric ward for three months in 1995.

Mrs. Martinez said Mr. Comiskey stopped taking his medication in the months after he left the hospital because of the bad side effects. She tried to get him committed into a psychiatric ward of a Pueblo hospital but was turned down.

On Aug. 7, 1996, Mr. Comiskey claimed werewolves whispered to him that he must kill or he would be killed. He drove around in a random search for someone to kill.

As Father Scheets opened the St. Leander’s Church rectory door just after noon, Mr. Comiskey immediately plunged the knife into his upper body over and over. Hearing noise, Father Stovik came out of his room and Mr. Comiskey chased him down, stabbing the retired priest repeatedly. The rectory was splattered with blood.

Mr. Comiskey was found not guilty by reason of insanity, and on March 19, 1997, Pueblo District Judge Eugene Halaas Jr. sentenced him to one year to life in the state mental hospital.

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