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Man who killed mom with ax sent to state hospital

Plea bargain aimed at getting treatment — not prison time

Leonard Preston Gall pleaded guilty and mentally ill to manslaughter and theft, second-degree felonies.
Leonard Preston Gall pleaded guilty and mentally ill to manslaughter and theft, second-degree felonies.
Pool Photo, Steve Griffin

Leonard Preston Gall, who admitted killing his mother with an ax and stealing her car, was committed to the Utah State Hospital Wednesday by 3rd District Judge Judith Atherton.

As part of a complicated plea bargain that essentially is aimed at getting treatment and monitoring for Gall, rather than prison, Gall pleaded guilty and mentally ill to the second-degree felonies of manslaughter and theft. He will be sentenced March 15, 2004.

However, Gall pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity to first-degree aggravated burglary. Nonetheless, based on reports from mental health experts, discussions with prosecutors and defense attorneys and other information, the judge ordered Gall committed to the state hospital.

The practical effect of the second plea is that it gives the court jurisdiction over Gall, potentially for the rest of his life, because he has been deemed a "substantial danger" to himself or others, according to prosecutor Kevin Murphy.

There also is a strong likelihood that Atherton will sentence Gall on the other criminal charges to the state hospital, although she is not bound to do so.

Defense attorney Stephen McCaughey said the plea was the best for all involved since taking the case to trial risked having Gall sent to prison where he would not get treatment for his documented mental problems. "That is something we were most assuredly trying to avoid," McCaughey said.

Gall's brother, Michael, who discovered their dead mother's body at her home, wept often during the hearing. "I still love my brother, but I don't understand why he took our mom's life," Michael Gall told the judge tearfully. "I also want to say he's given a lot of pain to me and my family, but I forgive him."

Leonard Gall, who was originally charged with first-degree murder, admitted that he broke into Susan Gall's home on Dec. 14, 2002, and attacked her with an ax or hatchet, killing her with multiple blows to the head and neck. He then fled in her car to Reno, Nev., where he was arrested.

Gall has had long-standing mental health problems and a history of not taking his medication. He has been diagnosed as having schizophrenia, although he said in court that he has bipolar disorder.

McCaughey said later that he discovered new information from a psychiatric interview in which Gall said he believed that his mother had turned into a "torture machine" and he was destroying the machine. "If you're that delusional, then you're insane," McCaughey said.

Taking the case to trial potentially could have produced no conviction, but also posed the risk of landing Gall in prison, which was not worth it since Gall would not have gotten treatment there, McCaughey said.

"This case from beginning to end has been a tragedy, for the Gall family and the community," Atherton said. The loss of Susan Gall and the manner in which she died "are as tragic as any we can see in a court."

In response to this case, the state Legislature changed the laws regarding mental illness and involuntary commitments to mental hospitals from a court having to find a person "an immediate" danger to himself or others to finding the person "a substantial" danger, making it somewhat easier to send someone to a mental institution.


E-MAIL: lindat@desnews.com