More than three years after she said a voice in her head urged to her attack her parents, Casey Eleeson could be on the road to recovery and an eventual return to Rapid City.
Eleeson, who suffers from paranoid schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, stabbed her father with a kitchen knife and then drove across town and and shot her mother at her home on Dec. 29, 2009. She was apprehended almost a month later, hiding in a remote Colorado cabin with a man.
After hearing from Eleeson and others, Circuit Judge Thomas Trimble agreed Thursday that the 25-year-old Rapid City woman is ready to begin a controlled re-entry into society.
At least two people have contacted Pennington County Chief Deputy State's Attorney Lara Roetzel with concerns about Eleeson’s release from the Human Services Center in Yankton.
Roetzel said she understands their concerns but it is time for Eleeson to move on with her recovery.
"None of them didn't want her to transition," she said of those who contacted her. "They just had concerns. They were neighbors who saw want happened and were traumatized by the events."
Roetzel, who has handled Eleeson's case from the beginning, did not oppose Eleeson's move to another facility.
“The facts of the events haven’t changed,” she said. “She tried to kill her mother and her father. It was a very serious crime — attempted first-degree murder — but society needs to have an understanding of mental illness and the stigma and the fear associated with psychiatric disorders.”
Seated next to her attorney, Betsey Harris of Rapid City, Eleeson spoke freely during the hearing called to seek approval for a transitional placement plan that would allow her to move into a group home
“I am ready for this,” said Eleeson, adding that she understands that her actions frightened others in the community. "I never meant for that to happen."
Eleeson and her health-care providers testified by television link from the Human Services Center.
Doctors testified Eleeson has cooperated with their care plan. She takes her medication, has a job, is saving money and participates in programming, said Dr. David Olson, her psychiatrist.
Eleeson understands that she needs to continue taking prescribed medications, Olson said.
“If she is on her meds, she will stay stable,” he testified.
Clinical psychologist Galen Van Kley has counseled Eleeson individually for almost two years. She has expressed remorse for what happened to her parents and is grateful for the sentence and treatment she’s received, he said.
Eleeson is not having the auditory or visual hallucinations she had before, Van Kley said. She will need medication for the rest of her life and recognizes their benefits, he said.
The composed young woman, whose hair was coiled neatly on her head, was very different from the disheveled woman Trimble declared not guilty of aggravated assault by reason of insanity in 2011.
Roetzel was impressed with Eleeson’s physical changes and her ability to communicate and understand what was happening during the hearing.
“It’s miles away from where we were two years ago,” she said.
When Trimble committed Eleeson to the Human Services Center, it was with the stipulation that she could not be released until doctors could agree that she did not pose a threat to herself and others.
Eleeson's parents were present in the courtroom for the hearing. Eleeson told Trimble she has a strong and enduring relationship with both of them and her younger sister.
Cindy Eleeson assured Trimble and Roetzel that she is not afraid of her daughter. “I want her to have a productive life,” she said.
Cindy Eleeson was wounded in the head, finger and leg. She managed to drive herself to the hospital.
Bruce Eleeson, who suffered critical injuries and has ongoing health problems, also supports his daughter’s move to a transitional setting, Roetzel said.
After the attacks, Eleeson escaped in a sports utility vehicle she stole from her father’s home.
Eleeson was apprehended in Colorado almost a month later. Authorities found her hiding in a remote mountain cabin with 34-year-old Seth Ebert.
Eleeson said her relationship with Ebert ended more than two years ago.
With Trimble’s approval, Eleeson’s caseworker can now complete the necessary steps to make a transitional placement, most likely at a facility in Watertown. Eventually, she could move to a facility in Rapid City.
She cannot, however, live with either parent, her doctors stressed.
As part of her transition program, Eleeson must comply with several provisions. She will not be allowed to drive, or have a gun or knife. She must continue to take her medication, and submit monthly reports to Trimble and the Pennington County.
Roetzel said Thursday’s testimony convinced her more than ever that Eleeson was psychotic when she attacked her parents.
“But for her illness, paranoid schizophrenia, this never would have happened,” Roetzel said. “I think that today, we’ve seen tremendous progress in the treatment of her illness, both with cognitive therapy and with appropriate medications. I hope we’re past the point in our society where we feel the need to just institutionalize our mentally ill. I’m hopeful that she can transition back into the community.”