A sign near an entrance to Western State Hospital is shown March 19, 2020, in Lakewood. (AP Photo / Ted S. Warren)

A sign near an entrance to Western State Hospital is shown March 19, 2020, in Lakewood. (AP Photo / Ted S. Warren)

Edmonds murder charge dismissed due to mental health treatment delays

John Fry allegedly confessed to killing his father in 2019. He has waited months to be admitted to Western State Hospital.

EVERETT — After months of waiting for mental health treatment, an Edmonds man’s first-degree murder charge in the death of his father was dismissed Wednesday.

Snohomish County Superior Court Judge Janice Ellis found John Fry’s continued wait for transport to Western State Hospital could violate his due process rights.

“His dangerousness is obvious, yet it is not appropriate to maintain him in the Snohomish County Jail without a reliable path towards restoration services,” Ellis said in court Wednesday. “So I am going to dismiss the case without prejudice,” meaning charges could be refiled in the future.

John Fry, now 27, must get evaluated by a designated crisis responder before he is released from jail. He remained in custody Thursday.

Fry had been diagnosed with schizophrenia a couple of years before the killing of his father, Stephen, he reportedly told police. But he didn’t believe he had a legitimate mental illness.

Fry believed his father was abusing him, but he was never assaulted, he reported, according to the murder charges. In October 2018, John Fry first thought about harming Stephen Fry, 64, as he tried to get a protection order against his father.

Over a year later, in late November 2019, he took to the internet, searching terms like “the definition of treason,” “justifiable homicide” and “excusable homicide.” He’d decided to kill his dad, prosecutors alleged.

In the early morning hours of Nov. 21, John Fry reportedly heard Stephen Fry using the bathroom upstairs in their Edmonds home. He told police he thought he heard his father talking about a gun. But he conceded he may have imagined that. He went upstairs with a Nerf gun and utility knife.

John Fry confronted his father and punched him in the face many times, according to court papers. He dragged Stephen Fry to the master bedroom. With the knife he’d brought, John Fry repeatedly stabbed him.

After Stephen Fry died, John Fry reportedly thought about burning the home down, but didn’t want to damage neighboring houses.

John Fry then went to the Edmonds Police Department to report the “premeditated murder on my father,” according to the charges. When police arrived at the home, they found Stephen Fry dead and a note on the kitchen counter.

“I am John Henry Fry unarmed and content,” it read, according to court records.

A few weeks later, Snohomish County prosecutors charged John Fry with first-degree premeditated murder. Judge Ellis ordered a competency evaluation.

Finding the defendant lacked the capacity to assist in his legal defense, Superior Court Judge Richard Okrent later that month ordered 90 days of competency restoration treatment. At his intake, John Fry reported feeling other people were putting thoughts in his head. That had stopped about a week before, but he still heard whispers, according to a psychological evaluation.

After the 90 days, a psychologist recommended further treatment. In June 2020, a judge ordered a second 90-day restoration period, finding the defendant lacked the capacity to both understand the proceedings against him and assist in his defense.

After that, a psychologist determined John Fry’s condition had improved while he took medication. If he stopped taking that medication, or used other substances, his condition might worsen again, the psychologist noted.

In October 2020, a Snohomish County judge determined he could stand trial.

But the Edmonds man stopped taking his medication voluntarily due to the side effects and mental health concerns creeped back, his public defender Robert O’Neal said in court Wednesday. In April of this year, a judge ordered John Fry receive more restoration treatment. In such cases, defendants are required to be admitted within a week.

But months later, John Fry remained at the Snohomish County Jail as bed constraints at Western State Hospital repeatedly kept him from treatment. So O’Neal pushed for the case to be dismissed, arguing in court filings that “this is an unconstitutional delay that violates substantive due process.”

Deputy prosecutor Bob Hendrix told Judge Ellis he was frustrated, too. He called for other tactics to expedite the case, such as finding the state in contempt or issuing fines.

Across Washington, orders for restoration treatment have jumped heavily. The past eight years have seen a 145% increase in demand, outpacing the available bed space for criminal defendants, assistant attorney general Andrew Logerwell wrote to the court in August. It would have been higher if not for the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Unfortunately, I don’t have any good news,” Logerwell said Wednesday. “And it is a difficult problem that is probably going to remain, to be fixed and difficult for a little while.”

Ellis joined the “chorus of frustration.” While his due process rights haven’t been violated yet, she argued, “if this is the ebb and flow of this case, it can’t be allowed to continue.”

“I cannot continue to find that Mr. Fry’s ongoing detention at Snohomish County Corrections, awaiting an elusive bed date, won’t violate his due process rights,” the judge said.

There is no statute of limitations for murder, so prosecutors have no deadline for refiling charges.

Jake Goldstein-Street: 425-339-3439; jake.goldstein-street@heraldnet.com; Twitter: @GoldsteinStreet.

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