Insane killer's escape sparks anger, fear

Insane killer's escape sparks anger, fear
SPOKANE, Wash. (AP) - A criminally insane killer who escaped during a mental hospital field trip to a county fair remained on the run Friday, and furious residents and officials wondered why such a dangerous person was out in public.

Authorities believe Phillip Arnold Paul, 47, is heading to the Sunnyside, Wash., area, where his parents and many siblings live. The Spokane County Sheriff's Office used a helicopter to search Friday, and officers also searched transient camps along railroad tracks in the area. The public was urged to call 911.

"He is in a bad mental state," his brother, Tom Paul, told The Associated Press. "Why would they load him on a bus and take him to a fair?"

That's a question many are asking.

Authorities at Eastern State Hospital are being criticized for allowing Paul to visit the fair despite his violent criminal past and history of trying to escape. Spokane County Commissioner Mark Richard has called it unacceptable, and the state Department of Social and Health Services ordered an immediate end to such trips and launched an investigation into the practice.

Paul was committed after he was acquitted by reason of insanity in the 1987 slaying of an elderly woman in Sunnyside. He soaked the woman's body in gasoline to throw off search dogs and buried the remains in her flower garden.

"Why was he allowed to take such a trip?" Gov. Chris Gregoire said Friday. "Why did they go to a location that was so heavily populated with families?"

Susan Dreyfus, secretary of the Department of Social and Health Services, said those questions would be answered in an investigation she has ordered that included both state mental hospitals. She was peppered with questions at a news conference, but deferred nearly all of them until the 15-day review, which will be in part conducted by the state Department of Corrections, was finished.

Dreyfus said it is not unusual for so-called "forensic" patients, who are being held against their will, to earn the opportunity to go on field trips as part of their therapy. The mental hospitals also treat people who are mentally ill but have not committed crimes.

Thirty-one patients from the mental hospital were on the trip Thursday with 11 staff members. Dreyfus said she did not know how many of those had violent criminal backgrounds. Patients must be cleared by a treatment team before they can go on trips to stores, parks, and other sites, said Dr. Rob Henry, director of forensic services at Eastern State. They wear street clothing and staff members are required to keep each patient within eyesight at all times.

Henry said trips to the fair were an annual event. The last escape from the forensic unit occurred in 1992, he said.

It is possible the review will end such outings, Dreyfus said.

Members of an employees union at Eastern State put out a statement saying they had long opposed such field trips.

"They believe he was an extreme escape risk and the administration should never have allowed him on the field trip," the statement from the Washington Federation of State Employees said. "The workers have unsuccessfully fought to stop the outings for murderers, rapists and pedophiles committed to the hospital as criminally insane."

The union said workers alerted superiors "within two to three minutes of discovering Paul's escape." But administrators waited nearly two hours before calling law enforcement. That gave Paul plenty of time to disappear.

Dreyfus said it was not clear how long it took for law enforcement to be alerted. Spokane County Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich insisted on the two-hour delay.

Sheriff's officials were told Paul had $50 at the time of his escape.

"Fifty dollars will buy you a bus ticket," sheriff's spokesman Dave Reagan said.

In addition to local law enforcement, the Washington State Patrol joined the search, as did an inmate recovery team from the state Department of Corrections.

Paul is a white male, 5-foot-8, 220 pounds, with brownish-gray hair, blue eyes, and a goatee. At the time of his escape, Paul was wearing a red windbreaker jacket, with a T-shirt and jeans.

The sheriff's office said Paul's medication should keep him stable for 14 days, not 48 hours as previously reported.

His brother said Paul was a high school and junior college wrestler and a martial artist who should not be approached.

"I'm a tough guy but I wouldn't take him on," Tom Paul said. "I hope he doesn't hurt anybody."

This was the second escape for Paul. In 1991, he walked away during a day trip in Medical Lake and was later captured. He attacked a sheriff's deputy in the jail booking area, knocking him unconscious, and was convicted of first-degree escape and second-degree assault.

Phillip Paul had a normal childhood in Sunnyside, 200 miles southwest of Spokane, but he started acting strangely as a high school student. He said he was hearing voices and thought they were witches, Tom Paul said. He was diagnosed with schizophrenia.

Phillip Paul has been on and off a variety of medications over the years, and also been in and out of institutions, Tom Paul said. He has repeatedly proven unable to live in society, he said.

Paul was living in a halfway house in Spokane last year, but ended up back at the hospital in a very agitated state, Tom Paul said. Hospital officials said Paul hadn't exhibited violent behavior in years. They argued in the past that he should be released, but his petition for release was rejected in 2003.