Prosecutors accept insanity plea from suspect in 2013 triple murder

By: Michael Campbell | Twitter: @itsthesoup
Posted: May 1, 2019 | 1:45 p.m.

Bland returns to Central State Hospital with no unsupervised releases

DINWIDDIE – The man accused of killing two women in neighboring Chesterfield before returning to Dinwiddie and slaying his own father has been remitted to Central State Hospital following his plea of not guilty by reason of insanity being accepted by county prosecutors in connection with the 2013 murder of his father.

In court last week, Dinwiddie County Commonwealth’s Attorney Ann Cabell Baskervill accepted Herbert Bland, Jr.’s insanity plea to the charges of murder and using a firearm in the commission of a felony just over a year after they were filed in local courts. 

The case dates back to January of 2013 when according to court records, Bland, driven by his father, went to the Chesterfield County home of his former girlfriend Elizabeth Fassett and her mother Barbara and gunned the two women down inside before returning to the vehicle and heading back home with Herbert Bland, Sr. in neighboring Dinwiddie. 

Once home, documents reveal Bland became a suspect in the double murder in Chesterfield when his father called Dinwiddie authorities to report that he believed his firearm had been stolen by his son and that it may have been used in the shooting earlier that day. Following that call, Bland and his father exchanged gunfire, with both men being wounded and Bland’s father dying from his injuries.

In September of 2015, a Chesterfield jury found Bland not guilty by reason of insanity in connection with the murders of Elizabeth and Barbara Fassett before he was committed to Central State Hospital in Dinwiddie County, where he would remain until January of 2018 when Dinwiddie’s lead prosecutor received a troubling update from a concerned resident.

“I received a call from a very kind and sincere anonymous citizen who expressed fear for Mrs. Bland because Mr. Bland Jr. had been home that last weekend, and ostensibly upcoming weekends, on unsupervised release,” Baskervill explained. “He had spent and would be spending, his unsupervised time in the home where he killed his father.  Given the history, the citizen was concerned about the safety of Mrs. Bland and of the neighborhood.”

Little is known as to how Bland was granted some form of unsupervised release from Central State Hospital but, when Baskervill and local investigators were made aware of the news, they were “horrified” and action was taken swiftly to address it as charges were immediately filed against Bland in connection with the murder of his father in Dinwiddie in January of 2013. 

According to Baskervill, her instinct was to move forward with charges in Dinwiddie County at the conclusion of the case in Chesterfield in 2015 but, she explained she “received a lot of input urging against prosecuting him” in Dinwiddie for the murder of Herbert Bland, Sr. 

“First and foremost was input from the Bland family,” she detailed. “Quite understandably, given the family dynamic of the 2013 tragedy, they did not want charges to be filed here. His mother – and the wife of the Dinwiddie decedent, Mr. Bland, Sr. – was compelling. Input like that is not going to fall on deaf ears with me.  It’s not controlling, but it’s important, of course always in the context of the developments as they are.  She adamantly did not want us to pursue anything here.”

She added the second element was the findings of the jury in Chesterfield, who found him not guilty by reason of insanity in connection with the Fassett murders in 2015. 

“‘The offense’ in Chesterfield was virtually concurrent with our offense here in Dinwiddie,” Baskervill detailed. “So, his defense here in Dinwiddie would be that the Chesterfield court’s finding would control here, and even if it were not controlling, then at the least our evidence of (in)sanity would have to incorporate the Chesterfield evidence of (in)sanity.  Virginia law has not (yet) addressed this particular issue.  As a trial lawyer, I don’t want to concede that issue, but in the context of everything else, it did and does become determinative.”

Following the 2018 charges being levied against Bland by Dinwiddie prosecutors, he was transferred from Central State Hospital to Meherrin River Regional Jail, preventing any further unsupervised releases. During the time of his incarceration at the jail, documents reveal he underwent psychological evaluations to determine his mental state presently and at the time of the 2013 murders.

According to a nearly 30-page evaluation report provided by prosecutors from June of 2018, it revealed some insight into the mental state of Bland following the 2013 murders. Within that report, psychologists found that Bland “developed a delusion that somehow he and his girlfriend were at the center of this battle of witchcraft,” noting that he was paranoid about his father prior to the shooting, “believing his father had tried to poison him with urine” in his food “and was somehow connected to the witchcraft,” finding that the diagnosis of Schizoaffective Disorder best fits Bland’s history. 

Upon his admittance into VCU Medical Center following the slaying of his father and the Fassetts, documents detail it was “readily obvious that Mr. Bland was psychotic.”

“He told the police, ‘It was war practice witchcraft, man (sic),'” the report continued. “While he was clear he knew he was shooting a gun and his intent was to kill, Mr. Bland also did not seem to fully appreciate the nature of his actions and their wrongfulness, as he both believed he was somehow saving the world and protecting himself, and that the [deceased] were not dead – he had some idea that this was part of a plan of reincarnation.”

In addition, the report reveals, prior to Bland being restored to competency, “he had such a vague comprehension of the wrongfulness and permanence of his actions that he wanted the Court to release him from jail so that he could help track down the victims to prove they were alive somewhere, and/or that they had been reincarnated.”

“He lacked an appreciation of the illegality of his conduct because he was so psychotic as to believe that the parties could not really die from being shot,” the report detailed.

Based on their assessment in June of 2018, psychologists believed Bland “was so psychotic at the time that he lacked the mental capacity to recognize the wrongfulness of his actions because he thought he had to defend himself from his father’s witchcraft and thus was acting in ‘self-defense’ against a delusion” and he “did not understand the wrongfulness because of the delusion that the people he shot did not die; they were supposed to be reincarnated.”

Pointing to the findings of the psychologists, Baskervill detailed the rationale behind the Commonwealth’s decision to accept “without contesting” Bland’s plea of not guilty by reason of insanity.

“I don’t accept insanity blindly – there is endless deep consideration of all the evidence, strengths, and weaknesses toward each and every issue,” noting the Russell Brown case as another example of mental state playing a key role into the prosecution of a case.

“Russell Brown was opined by multiple experts to be insane when he killed Trooper [Junius] Walker, but on behalf of the Commonwealth, based on all evidence and information, I didn’t accept that – and a jury of peers agreed,” she said, referring to Brown being found guilty of the master trooper’s 2013 murder in late 2016 by a Dinwiddie jury. “The Bland case was very different from the Brown case – most significantly, as it turns out, based on the Chesterfield proceedings. You can’t get past that.  And that’s for good reason, as Judge [Paul] Cella found today in Dinwiddie.  He agreed with Dr. [Evan] Nelson that the evidence of insanity at the time of the offense meets the burden to establish that under Virginia law.  And that is what the evidence shows.”

The other element of last week’s plea acceptance is an effort to prevent Bland from being able to have unsupervised weekends away from Central State Hospital as he apparently had been granted as recently as 2018, with Baskervill saying he will remain at the Dinwiddie facility at all times and input will have to be garnered before he is afforded any form of release.

“I am grateful to say that this prosecution is allowing and will continue to allow the Dinwiddie community to have input and transparency as to Mr. Bland’s status from here,” she explained. “He will be at Central State hospital and he will be there on weekdays and weekends.  And, if there ever does come a point when forensic evaluators at Central State determine that some form of release would be appropriate, then that issue will go before the Dinwiddie court, with prosecutorial input and information, pursuing justice and public safety transparently to the community.  Being compassionate toward mental illness and family tragedy must coexist with protecting the community from harm.  That is what we achieved today and will continue to pursue.”

Copyright 2019 by Womack Publishing
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