Solicitor Scarlett Wilson said she has little faith in the current mental health system to rehabilitate people like Alice Boland to the point where the 28-year-old never will try to kill someone again.
But Wilson, who leads the 9th Judicial Circuit Solicitor’s Office, vowed Wednesday to do everything in her power to prosecute Boland so that she either is imprisoned or sent away for substantial treatment.
Boland faces charges of attempted murder and various firearms violations after police said she showed up at Ashley Hall in downtown Charleston and tried to shoot an official at the private school. Her .22-caliber pistol didn’t go off because no round was in the chamber.
Boland had bought the gun three days earlier, despite a history of mental illness. She pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity after federal agents said she threatened to kill the president in 2005, but the charge later was dropped.
Even if Boland avoids conviction in the current case by being found not guilty for the same reason, Wilson said Boland would be treated until she is no longer a threat, can understand right from wrong and can seek treatment on her own. Wilson said she lacked trust in the state’s system to achieve that in a case like Boland’s.
She said she supports legislation that would make it more difficult for the mentally ill to buy a gun from a retailer, but that the focus should be on bolstering mental health care rather than gun laws.
“I’m not confident” in the system, she said. “But even when someone is sick, there are consequences.”
At least one state expert regarded Wilson’s comment as unfair and pointed to an example in which a killer was reformed to become a contributing member of society.
Debbie Blalock, executive director of the Charleston Dorchester Mental Health Center, said she welcomed the discussion about mental health care, but that the state’s system is superior to others nationwide.
She cited the case of Lloyd Hale, a killer who was treated and now serves as a peer-support specialist at the center.
“If I had a family member who needed care, I wouldn’t want them to go anywhere else,” Blalock said. “I don’t think anywhere else can do what we can do.”
Boland’s mother has been critical of the treatment that her daughter was subjected to in the past federal case. She has said that treatment should employ more natural therapies than the antipsychotic drugs that can cause harmful side effects.
Reached Wednesday, Delann Boland said her lawyer had issued strict orders not to respond to any questions from the media.
“We cannot comment at this point,” she said. “It’s a very big issue.”
Wilson’s first move in her quest will be to step aside and let federal authorities have the first opportunity to prosecute the Beaufort woman accused in a case that has captured national headlines and inspired legislation regarding the mentally ill and firearms.
Grand juries have indicted Boland on four federal charges and five counts on the state level. The state charges carry higher maximum penalties because they include more serious felonies.
Boland’s public defenders in both courts, as well as Assistant U.S. Attorney Sean Kittrell, have declined to discuss the case.
Wilson said she called a news conference Wednesday to explain the process through which experts will examine Boland’s competency to participate in the judicial process.
The solicitor will first let the federal system make that determination and allow those charges to play out. U.S. Department of Justice policy makes it difficult, she said, for federal prosecutors to pursue a case against someone already tried on the state level for the same incident.
The task of evaluating Boland now rests in the hands of a federal prison hospital in North Carolina.
Wilson said she would consider the federal findings for use in her office’s prosecution, but it could be more than a year before the case is heard in state court.
In the meantime, she said, prosecutors have gathered more information from the Charleston Police Department, which investigated the case, and have conducted their own interviews.
“Beyond that,” Wilson said, “we’re standing down until it’s our turn to go.”
CLARIFICATION: Solicitor Scarlett Wilson said during a news conference Wednesday that she lacks confidence in the state’s ability to rehabilitate a mentally ill person accused of a crime, such as Alice Boland, to the point where that person won’t try to commit the crime again. The first sentence of this story was adjusted to clarify that. In revising her comments Thursday, Wilson said she has little faith in the state’s ability to prevent others from doing the same thing because of the funding struggles that the mental health care system must deal with.
Reach Andrew Knapp at 937-5414 or twitter.com/offlede.