Smith to remain in mental institution for life

July 28, 2008 3:57:41 PM PDT
A homeless woman accused of setting a fire in Wrigleyville that killed four people has been committed to a mental health facility. On Monday a judge ruled that Mary Smith will remain in the custody of a mental institution for the rest of her natural life.

Earlier, Smith was found "not guilty by reason of insanity" for arson and murder charges in the March 2007 fire that killed Joseph Schultz, Jason Bowers, Jared Pilgreen and Jennifer Carlson. On Monday, Smith's family and the victim's families testified before a judge.

Smith, a schizophrenic who, according to her family, battles drug and alcohol addiction, has been in and out of mental institutions since 1989.

"I'll never have my brother back again, but I'm glad that Mary's getting help that she needs," said Amanda Pilgreen, victim's sister.

"There was always a possibility that they might not put her away permanently, but we were hoping because she needs help," said Michael Carlson, victim's father.

Emotions ran high as Carlson's mother, Barb, read her victim's impact statement in the courtroom. She said her family is struggling to raise Blake, Jennifer's son.

"I can talk until I'm blue in the face, but to write it is very hard for me," said Barb Carlson.

Smith's sister left the court proceedings without commenting on camera, but during the hearing she said her sister began having mental problems after her mother denied. She also made another emotional apology to the victims' families.

"We continue to be devastated at the loss and the pain you will experience forever," said Natalie Parks, Smith's sister, while reading her impact statement.

"It was bad for them? I've met some of Mary's kids. They don't deserve it either," said Brandy Pauley, Jared Pilgreen's sister.

Smith's attorney says she hopes some good will out of this tragedy in the form of more help for the mentally ill.

"Mary is a victim of the fact that we don't offer help to people like Mary," said Jacqueline Ross, Smith's public defender.

The Carlsons are hoping to get legislation creating a database to help mental health facilities communicate about treatment given to at risk patients.

A lawsuit filed by the families of all four victims against the building's owner and management company-- claiming that the building's locking system failed by allowing the fatal fire to be set-- is still in court.


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