Why was Abbott released after an alleged assault?

Posted: Sunday, April 06, 2008

About 25 hours after a magistrate released Jason Abbott - who was charged with assaulting his mother - police said Abbott went on a killing spree that sent four people to their graves and one to the hospital.

Now, at least one mental health expert is questioning why Abbott was let go.

Dr. Lawrence Maile, clinical director at the Alaska Psychiatric Institute, said the fact that Abbott was released from jail a day before the slayings raised questions about how the state's judicial system handles violent offenses.

"Is it OK to arrest somebody for assaulting another person, and because it's a misdemeanor to let those people out after two days?" Maile asked. "I don't think it is."

In Abbott's case, he was held for just one day after the alleged assault against his mother.

Those familiar with Alaska's judicial system said Sitka Magistrate Bruce Horton's decision to release Abbott after he spent a day in jail for allegedly attacking his mother was a normal course of action in a misdemeanor assault case.

Horton set Abbott's court date for June, and ordered him not to violate any laws, leave Sitka, or consume any alcohol or drugs before releasing him.

Alaska statute says that Horton could have held Abbott longer if the magistrate believed releasing the 18-year-old would "pose a danger to alleged victim, other persons, or the community."

But legal watchers said it would have been out of the judicial norms for Horton to retain Abbott, absent any request from police or family members to hold him longer.

The magistrate declined to be interviewed for this story.

Surviving Abbott family members could not be reached for comment and there are no court documents indicating that they requested Abbott be held longer.

Sitka Police Chief Sheldon Schmitt said he was not aware of any specific request or indication that Abbot should have been held longer.

"There was just a general concern about the situation, and that's pretty much it," Schmitt said.

Mental health experts said the biggest single predictor for future violent behavior is past violent behavior, and Maile said Abbott's case is proof the judicial system needs to change accordingly.

"We are lax when it comes to serial violence," Maile said.

Holding violent offenders, in some cases only for a few extra days, could reduce the chances of repeat, violent offenses, he said.

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