In a Criminal Court matter of
unusual significance in Alaska, Charles Meach
3d, charged with killing four teenagers in a
park, entered a plea June 15 of ''not guilty
because of mental disease or defect.''
Because of Mr. Meach, who
used the same plea successfully in a 1973 murder
trial, a new state law on insanity pleas was
passed earlier this month, and the Alaskan way
of dealing with the criminally insane has come
Mr. Meach, 34 years old, is
accused of shooting the teen-agers to death last
month while on a pass from the Alaska
Psychiatric Institute, where he was sent after
confinement at a California mental hospital for
the earlier killing.
The new law will not apply in
his case because it was not in effect at the
time of the killings. But the speed with which
it was passed has created some dispute.
Similarity to Hinckley
And while watching the Meach
case, many Alaskans have come to equate it with
the case of John W. Hinckley Jr. A Washington
jury today found Mr. Hinckley not guilty by
reason of insanity in the shooting of President
Reagan and three other men.
Mr. Meach's plea had been
expected, since he used it nine years ago after
he beat and kicked to death a mentally retarded
Alaskan Indian whom he met in a topless bar. He
later told the police that his victim had an
After two psychiatrists and a
psychologist testified that Mr. Meach was a
paranoid schizophrenic, a judge found him not
guilty by reason of insanity. He was sent to
Atascadero State Hospital in California.
Psychiatrists there said in
1980 that Mr. Meach's mental illness was in
remission, and he was returned to Anchorage and
held at the Alaska Psychiatric Institute. Under
Alaska law, if he was not insane, he had to be
set free, but the institute delayed that step.
Instead, it gave him day passes to freedom.
In 1981 Mr. Meach got a job
as a dishwasher. He got a student loan and
enrolled for two semesters at the University of
Alaska here. He worked as a bookkeeper, then as
a clothing salesman. Those who learned he lived
in the psychiatric institute were told that he
had a drinking problem. The institute was
prevented by privacy laws from telling his new
associates of his past.
4 Bodies Found in Park
Then, on May 3, the bodies of
two 19-year-old men and two 16-year-old girls
were found in Russian Jack Springs Park. Three
days later the police went to the psychiatric
institute to interview Mr. Meach. Someone at the
park had recalled seeing a new blue bicycle. The
police examined every sales receipt at local
bicycle shops and discovered a bicycle had been
sold to Mr. Meach.
When the police turned up
records of his earlier crime, he confessed to
shooting the teen-agers. In his confession,
which newspapers here have printed, he gave this
account of the slayings: His favorite shirt had
been stolen, which upset him, so he went to a
bar. Then he decided to steal something himself.
He remembered seeing cassette tapes in a tent.
He got a gun that he had bought from a man on
the street and then buried. He bicycled to the
park and was caught by the owner as he prepared
to rummage through the tent.
Shootings Described to
According to his confession,
he concealed the gun until the youth, Joseph
Kimler, turned his back, then shot him in the
back of the head. When a second teen-ager, Vern
Sylvester, came to see what had happened, he was
shot in the back of the head. When the two girls,
Sabrina Imlach and Rebecca Phillips, came to the
tent, each was killed by a shot to the head.
In his confession, Mr. Meach
said of the day of the killings: ''I'm a fool.
I'll admit it. I had some drinks in a bar. I did
all the things I wasn't supposed to do.''
When he was in Atascadero, Mr.
Meach composed a paper titled ''How to Survive a
Multidisciplinary Meeting,'' in which a mental
patient is examined. The paper came into the
possession of Dave Wexler, a law professor at
the University of Arizona, who made it available
to The Anchorage Times.
The newspaper account said
that along with advice to show remorse and
sympathy for victims, Mr. Meach advised mental
patients undergoing examination to express fear
of alcohol, while accepting full responsibility
and thereby perhaps drawing sympathy.
Governor Urged Law
Within a week of Mr.
Meach's arrest, Gov. Jay
S. Hammond asked the
Legislature to revise
the state's statutes on
dealing with the
criminally insane. In a
month, the law was
has increased the
possible verdicts in a
criminal trial, which
formerly were ''guilty,''
''not guilty'' and ''not
guilty by reason of
insanity.'' The new law
provides for a verdict
of ''guilty, but
mentally ill.'' The
convicted person is then
sentenced to a term to
be served in a mental
hospital as long as the
mental illness persists.
When the illness
will be in a prison for
the balance of the term.
executive director of
the Alaska Mental Health
Association, spoke for
those disturbed by the
rapid shift in law that
resulted from one
suppport the Governor's
prompt attention to the
matter but are concerned
with the legislative
haste in acting on this
proposed change in the
law,'' she wrote in a
problem for the defense
will be that Mr. Meach's
doctors had found him
sane and a candidate for
release only a few weeks
before the killings.