A serial killer seeking a conditional release from the state mental hospital where he’s spent the past 25 years finds himself faced with a return trip.
After a two-day trial, a five-person jury of four women and one man unanimously agreed Friday evening that Alvin Taylor, 65, should be recommitted to the custody of Mendota Mental Health Institute in Madison.
In 1988, another Dunn County jury found Taylor not guilty by reason of mental defect or disease of the March 26, 1987 gunshot murder of Timothy Hayden, a UW-Stout maintenance worker from Menomonie.
Dunn County District Attorney James Peterson recapped the case for the jury, noting that Hayden was found in his home lying dead in a pool of blood. An investigation led to Taylor, who knew Hayden. He was arrested at the man’s funeral.
Taylor confessed that he drove to Hayden’s residence Menomonie early in the morning of March 26. After being invited in, the D.A. said Taylor snuck up behind Hayden and shot him several times in the head with a .22 handgun. “Then he took a gun that was there and smashed Mr. Hayden in the face,” Peterson added.
Hayden was one of four people who met a violent death at Taylor’s hands. When he was arrested, Taylor stated that as a “soldier of God”, he was driven to kill by messages he received from the radio and television.
Interrogated by Menomonie police, Taylor also admitted to shooting Robert Williams of Eau Claire in 1985 and Daniel Lundgren of Esko, Minn. in 1986 as well as stabbing to death Eau Claire resident James Severson in 1988.
Taylor’s first victim, Williams was visiting Taylor at his rural Dunn County home on the corner of County Highways J and C, when Taylor snuck up behind Williams and shot him, then buried the man’s body in his yard.
A year later, Taylor visited Lundgren, a former roommate, at his home in the West Bend area. The pair drove out on a rural road where Taylor shot Lundgren several times in the head and left him for dead in his car. Lundgren, however, regained consciousness, drove down the road, and crashed into a ditch. His death was ruled an accident until his body was later exhumed and the bullet holes in his head were discovered.
In 1988, a foul odor led Eau Claire police to a blood-drenched apartment where they found Severson with a knife blade broken off and stuck in his neck as well as multiple stab wounds on his body inflicted with a butcher knife. Taylor admitted to murdering Severson, someone with whom he was acquainted.
Peterson said that when the two Dunn County cases were tried, a psychiatrist diagnosed Taylor with paranoid schizophrenia and testified that his crimes were the result of his mental illness.
Over the course of his incarceration at Mendota, schizophrenia was ruled out as an accurate diagnosis. Deborah Collins, Ph.D., a forensic psychologist from Milwaukee, told the jury that Taylor was re-diagnosed as having a persecutory type of a delusional disorder that includes antisocial and narcissistic behaviors.
Arguing against his release, she noted that Taylor has not yet attained the least restrictive level in Mendota’s minimum security unit for nonviolent residents where he has been placed. She pointed out that in the mid-1990s, he conspired with another inmate to bring a gun into the institution.
“His history of violence ... is a strong predictor for future violence,” Collins said, adding, “He has shown a pattern of testing limits in the institution.”
Called by Taylor’s attorney, John Kucinski, another court-appointed psychologist testified that he believed a conditional release was warranted. Dr. Kent Berney said that Taylor’s delusional disorder has been in remission for 20 years and that he was taken off psychotropic medication two years after his admission to Mendota.
In fact, Taylor has refused all medication and claims to have healed himself through a combination of therapies, including yoga and meditation.
With the exception of a time in 1995 when he thought someone was trying to kill him, Berney said Taylor has not experienced any delusional thinking.
“His ability to recognize the warning signs is much different than it was 20 years ago,” Berney testified, later noting that if discharged, “Mr. Taylor will not present a risk of substantial danger to others.”
Speaking of Taylor’s treatment during his 25 years at Mendota, Kucinski said, “Things do change. They’ve flip-flopped their diagnosis, they flip flop the programs they want the person in, new staff come and go, people have different opinions back and forth.”
Peterson reminded the jury of the violent and horrifying nature of Taylor’s crimes. “The issue is not about whether Mr. Taylor has a mental illness,” the D.A. said. “The issue is about safety. Given his track record, he cannot be safely released.”
Placing his hands on Taylor’s shoulders, Kucinski asked the jury, “What made Alvin Taylor do what he did 25, 26 years ago? The answer is simple: He was a little boy who kept getting beat up.”
Kucinski said that the pain, fear and anger he suffered at his father’s hands caused Taylor to repress his feelings, resulting in delusions that he acted on. Through the thousands of hours of therapy he has received at Mendota, Kucinski said, “He was able to take a look and see what caused it and get a hold of it.”
His attorney also pointed out that during his 25 years at Mendota, Taylor has not gotten into any fights or exhibited violent behavior of any kind.
Peterson expressed relief at the verdict. “I would hope that Mr. Taylor would appreciate that he’s in Mendota and that he would follow the rules and stay there,” he said. “I think he’s fortunate that he’s not in prison. There are some people who need to be locked up forever and in my opinion, he’s one. ... I don’t think we should take a chance on somebody that’s already killed that many people.”
Both attorneys agreed that it was a tough case and that the jury was attentive and did a good job.
“They say you’re entitled to your day in court,” Kucinski said about Taylor. “He actually had his day in court with a pretty fair panel.”
In 2005, Taylor withdrew a motion for a conditional release from Mendota. Five years later, Judge Bill Stewart denied a second request during a bench trial.
Peterson said under state statute, Taylor could make a new request in Dunn County in six months. He pointed out that Taylor was also convicted in and could file a petition for release in with Eau Claire or Washington county.
“It’s something that’s there; we’ll be living with it,” Peterson concluded. “He could very well be back here again.”