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Charles L. MEACH III

 
 
 
 
 

 

 

 

   
 
 
Classification: Homicide
Characteristics: Bludgeoned man because "had an irritating voice" - Shot four teen campers who caught him stealing from their tent
Number of victims: 5
Date of murders: 1973 / 1982
Date of arrest: May 6, 1982
Date of birth: 1948
Victims profile: A mentally retarded Alaskan Indian / Joseph Kimler, 19; Vern Sylvester, 19; Sabrina Imlach, 16, and Rebecca Phillips, 16
Method of murder: Beating / Shooting
Location: Anchorage, Alaska, USA
Status: Acquitted on grounds of insanity, 1973. Sentenced to 396 years without parole in four counts, 1983. Died in prison
 
 

 
 

New law on insanity plea stirs dispute in Alaska

By Wallace Turner - The New York Times

June 22, 1982

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 under examination.

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 Case

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 irritating voice.

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 Police

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 Revision

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 revised.

It 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 disappears, confinement will be in a prison for the balance of the term.

Natalie Gottstein, executive director of the Alaska Mental Health Association, spoke for those disturbed by the rapid shift in law that resulted from one criminal case.

''We 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 formal statement.

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.


Charles L. Meach III

SEX: M RACE: W TYPE: T MOTIVE: PC/CE

DATE(S): 1973/82

VENUE: Anchorage, Alaska

VICTIMS: Five

MO: Bludgeoned man in park; shot four teen campers who caught him stealing from their tent.

DISPOSITION: Acquitted on grounds of insanity, 1973; 396 years without parole four counts, 1983.

Michael Newton - An Encyclopedia of Modern Serial Killers - Hunting Humans

 

 

 
 
 
 
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