Man held in mental hospital argues for his freedom

Tuesday, December 3, 2002

CHESTER, Ill. -- A man who has attracted national media attention in his quest to be released from a state mental hospital is dangerous and should remain locked up for at least another six months, a prosecutor told a Randolph County jury Monday.

The six-member jury is hearing arguments in the recommittal hearing of Claud "Rodney" Yoder, 44, who has been an involuntary patient at the Chester Mental Health Center since 1991.

Although involuntary mental patients in Illinois are entitled to recommitment hearings every six months, Yoder has not had one since 1999, postponing previous dates while he hired a new lawyer and formulated a legal strategy aimed at winning his freedom.

On Monday, Dr. Dan Cuneo, a former clinical director at the Chester hospital, testified Yoder has a "delusional disorder, persecutory type, with a paranoid personality" and would be violent if released.

Since Yoder denies he has any mental problem, and is quick to believe others want to mistreat him, "he will strike out at others" if released from the hospital, said Cuneo, who retired from the hospital in July 2001.

Yoder was committed to the state's only maximum-security mental hospital after serving time in prison on a battery conviction nearly 12 years ago.

Prison officials argued for his admission to Chester rather than release due to what they said were his violent outbursts in prison.

On Monday, assistant state's attorney Michael Burke showed the jury several handwritten letters Yoder admitted he wrote to judges, politicians and other high-profile people from 1995 to 1996 threatening to kill them.

He sent the threats to former U.S. Sen. Paul Simon, threatening a member of Simon's staff, to U.S. District Judge Blanche Manning, and to Playboy Enterprises Chief Executive Christie Hefner, among others.

Expected criminal charge

Yoder, who was the subject of a lengthy Time magazine article this year, contends he made the threats to attract the wrath of the criminal justice system, thinking that an indictment and a criminal charge would land him in prison. There, unlike in a state mental hospital, he would have a firm release date.

"He deserves to walk free like the rest of us, not be caged like an animal," Yoder's attorney, Randy Kretchmar, told the jury. "He has not been charged with any crime."

People can be involuntarily committed to mental hospitals in Illinois if proven to be mentally ill, and also either a threat to themselves or others or unable to meet their basic needs, said a Department of Human Services spokesman.

Some 2,900 people were committed to the state's 10 mental-health hospitals last year involuntarily, Green said.

The average length of committment at Chester is one year and three months, Green said.

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