Fifteen years after killing and mutilating his elderly father, and to the consternation of his family, Richard Dunn in the last few months had been coming close to regaining his full freedom without any court supervision. Just last June he’d spoken to Flagler County Circuit Judge Terence Perkins as if he were as normal as any 60-year-old man, as long as he kept taking his medications and speaking with his counselors. The court was inclined to agree, but with reservations.
“Why is everyone under the inclination that as soon as I’m cut free, I’m going to jump off a bridge and kill somebody?” Dunn had asked the judge. “I’d like to know why that seems to be the ideology here.”
The answer came shortly afterward, provided by Dunn’s own behavior. Dunn, who killed and mutilated his 89-year-old father, Dr. Jack Dunn, Palm Coast’s famed founding physician, had been found not guilty by reason of insanity in 2007. He was institutionalized, then released to a halfway house, then allowed to live on his own but still under rather strict supervision. For the past two years he’s been petitioning the court to regain his full freedom. In early summer he was granted permission to visit Flagler and Palm Coast again if he so wished, as long as he had a supervisor’s approval–an allowance his family objected to.
Now, for the first time in eight years, Dunn is back in jail. He was arrested last Thursday. He’s violated his conditional release agreement. The violation is the sort of minor infraction that for most people under court supervision would net a day or two in jail, if that: he smoked pot. But in a sign of the anxiety surrounding Dunn’s recent behavior, Perkins has ordered Dunn to remain in jail pending a reevaluation of his case as a psychologist and the court figure out whether Dunn can resume his slow trek to freedom, or whether he will have to submit to new constraints.
The change is the result of a “bizarre” series of “red flags” in the last few months, according to his mental health supervisors, who appeared before Perkins by Zoom on Friday, as did Dunn, from jail. The strange behavior includes a sudden and significant weight loss, a serious burn on Dunn’s hand that he refuses to explain, weird writings on his door, the pot use, an uninvited appearance at a caretaker’s door at 2:30 in the morning, and his indifference to court-required appointments with his mental health counselors. The odd behavior is raising concerns about his mental stability and the risk he may pose of again losing his grip on reality and causing harm.
“Just as the red flags go down, they come back up. That just continues to concern us,” Christopher Bailey, a case manager for Dunn for about a year, told the court. “So the goal of this was just to have him here to have everyone present and figure out what can we do before something goes wrong, before it does go too far.”
Dunn had been scheduled for what was to be another routine status hearing before Perkins–one of many as he’s slowly made his case to regain his freedom. The arrest turned it into a different kind of status hearing, though the court, the prosecution and the defense had too little information to do more than ask for further evaluations.
“I was getting some indications that Mr. Dunn was not following precisely his conditional release plan,” Perkins said, “and that there were some concerns with regard to maybe either not taking his medication, or taking his medication but other drugs or alcohol as well, and some non compliance. So, I wanted to bring a halt to everything, give everybody an opportunity to kind of figure out where we were and whether or not we need to change anything, medical treatment, anything, as we go forward, so that we are absolutely assured at not just the community but Mr. Dunn and everybody in his life remains safe and secure as we move forward.”
Nothing that Perkins heard was reassuring.
“His behavior is concerning to the state, especially the way his father was killed in ‘06,” Assistant State Attorney Jason Lewis said. He was referring to how Dr. Dunn was found–with fork stabs to the neck and groin and a strange assortment of food on top of him. “I do have some concerns that he could lose control of his mental faculties and harm somebody.”
SMA’s Melissa Eugley has known Dunn since 2012. She’d been his forensic case manager for six years, and for the past four has been in a more supervisory role of his case managers, including Bailey.
“The Richard Dunn that I know very well is not the same person that we have been seeing for probably at least the last six months,” Eugley told the court. “Things have changed, not drastically but they certainly have changed, so he’s lost a significant amount of weight, probably at least 50 pounds. His attitude is very very different.”
This is what beguiling–and also concerning–the court and his supervisor: Eugley described a man with “very good insight,” intelligence and self-awareness. He knows what he’s doing when he talks to his supervisors. In the past he himself would know when something was off. He would go to SMA’s crisis stabilization unit.
“Most recently there has just been more bizarre behavior,” Eugley said. “He showed up about to 2:30 in the morning this past weekend to a former caregiver, stating it was out of concern that her mother had recently passed away. But he had not reached out by phone. A very inappropriate time to go and check. Obviously she was sleeping. Then he wanted to enter her home and she told him–absolutely not. So that’s a great concern. He also has a severe burn on his left arm that he has not indicated how he’s done. He did not go and get medical care.”
He was ordered to get it checked and go through follow-ups. He did not comply. “It’s very evident that something’s not right,” Eugley said, “and it’s alarming everyone across the board.”
Dunn’s roommate of a year appears to be in the same pattern, Eugley said, adding to the concern.
Christopher Bailey, Dunn’s current counselor, was even more concerned. “We haven’t been able to directly pinpoint what’s going on, but his behavior is out of the norm,” Bailey said. “He presents very well. If you ask him questions or you have a discussion with him, he knows what to say, how to say it and when to say it. He’s very intelligent. However, his patterns in his behavior has become a little indifferent. He’s missing appointments, he’s confusing the days and the times. We’re having to constantly remind him of things that he was on top of just not too long ago.” Plus the marijuana use and the weight loss. “I understand exercise and I understand fitness but he looks sick,” Bailey said. Then came the unexplained burn, “just kind of as a random, weird thing it wasn’t being cared for.”
The “bizarre things,” Bailey said, are out of character. “Within the last three or four months, it just seems he’s going downhill.” He’s also been undependable at work. “ It’s just raising some red flags across the board. So we just wanted to stay ahead of it as best we could to a reasonable degree.”
Assistant Public Defender Regina Nunnally would normally be arguing for a defendant’s immediate release, based on the offense. Not this time. “Given lives and circumstances. I don’t think there’s a basis for me to object to him remaining in custody, to get the evaluation done,” Nunnally said. “That gives me a chance to speak to him, as well as to–does he understand what’s going on and what the consequences could be, depending on how we get to that point. She suspects it’s something going on in his house with his roommate.
The evaluation will be conducted by Dr. Roger Davis, a Jacksonville psychologist often retained by the court to evaluate defendants.
“This is not an in competency exam or anything. This is a little different and a little broader than under normal circumstances,” Perkins said. “I want to move this towards a resolution, and that resolution is by its very nature going to involve a review of the current treatment. Any recommendations with regard to changes in the treatment, and a review of the conditional release plan. And similarly, any proposed changes to that conditional release point.”
The distinction between the evaluation requested and the competency evaluation amounts to a difference in degrees of severity in potential consequences: if Dunn were found to lack competency, he could be once again confined to a state psychiatric hospital. He’s not at that point, and his behavior, while bizarre, was not at the point where it could legitimize any other form of intervention by his caretakers, the counselor told the court. So his arrest on the marijuana violation was essentially a relief to everyone. It is allowing a complete pause in the case and Dunn’s removal from society as he is being re-evaluated.
“We’ll take it one step at a time. The whole idea here, the objective is, as we’ve all indicated, is safety,” Perkins said, “safety of the community, and the safety of Mr. Dunn moving forward. We’re not going to take any chances with regard to either of those.”
Another status hearing is scheduled for Friday at 9 a.m. In an irony likely blistering to his family, the given address for Dunn on his latest jail booking was 18 Clarendon Court South–where he had killed his father. The property has twice been sold to different owners.