HILLSBOROUGH — A judge recommitted Chapel Hill shooter Wendell Williamson to a Butner hospital for another year Tuesday but granted him unsupervised off-campus privileges.
Superior Court Judge Elaine Bushfan agreed with the recommendation from Williamson’s doctor and social worker, but asked them “to implement it slowly and with all due caution.”
Williamson, who killed two people in a 1995 downtown shooting rampage, waived his right to appear in Orange County Superior Court in Hillsborough.
He has been treated for paranoid schizophrenia since he was found not guilty by reason of insanity. He and other patients were moved to Central Regional Hospital in Butner when the state closed Dorothea Dix Hospital in Raleigh this summer.
Dr. Reem Utterback, who has treated Williamson since June 2007, recommended that he remain hospitalized but said he is responding well to treatment. Williamson should be allowed up to 12 hours of unsupervised, off-campus visits with his family each month, she said.
“It gives him a chance to go into the community and practice skills again – how to behave in public, how to interact with people other than just the people in the hospital,” she said.
Williamson is in a minimum-security unit and worked his way up to 12 hours of staff-supervised visits with his family this year. He also participates in on- and off-campus outings with a staff member and nine other patients, and can be alone on campus for up to three hours with hourly checks.
He has taken a leadership role in Alcoholics Anonymous meetings and has painted murals and artwork for the hospitals, she said. In July, he expressed remorse while meeting with Chaz Walker, whose father he killed, she said.
The former third-year UNC law student now cleans the hospital and works as a video clerk.
Assistant Attorney General Adam Shestak argued that Williamson shouldn’t get that many hours unsupervised because of his violent past.
“The state feels the safety of the people of North Carolina is paramount, Shestak said.
Utterback said Williamson acknowledges his illness and is active in his treatment, which includes two anti-psychotics and an anti-depressant, she said. He last reported having hallucinations two years ago, hospital social worker Elizabeth Nickels said. And his last attempted suicide was in 2004, Utterback said.
“He has demonstrated ongoing psychiatric stability,” she said. “At no point over the last year has he shown any behavioral problems.”
‘Very much like himself’
Williamson’s sister Alice McClure also testified Tuesday.
“We’re very committed and promise that we’ll be very responsible in handling those privileges,” said McClure, who is a social worker with the Buncombe County Department of Social Services.
The family lives in western North Carolina and eastern Tennessee, so they all share the responsibility of coming to visit him nearly every month in Raleigh, she said. They typically rent a hotel suite with a living room where they can relax and talk, or they go shopping or eat out together, she said. Williamson also has returned home to visit this year – the first time in 17 years, she said.
“I do believe he is getting better. He is very much like himself before the illness came on. We thoroughly enjoy him, and he is a significant person in my life,” she said. “When he was very ill, he was different. ... He wouldn’t be grateful, like if we went to visit him or took him something, he wouldn’t even say thank you. He was that sick, he was that deep within himself.”