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Judge to decide if Hall should stay in custody

The Associated Press

A brain-injured man ruled incompetent to stand trial in the deaths of nine people in a fire at a fireworks store in 1996 could be released from state custody next week.

Sunday, February 24, 2002

A brain-injured man ruled incompetent to stand trial in the deaths of nine people in a fire at a fireworks store in 1996 could be released from state custody next week.

Judge W. Richard Walton scheduled a hearing for Friday in Lawrence County Common Pleas Court to determine whether Todd Hall, 30, of Proctorville, should continue treatment.

The judge’s previous order that Hall live in a state mental health facility expires March 15. Walton could require him to spend up to two more years at the Appalachian Behavioral Healthcare campus in Athens.

Lawrence County prosecutors oppose Hall’s release from the custody of the Ohio Department of Mental Health.

”For his safety and the safety of others, it’s important he remain in some type of restrictive environment,” Prosecutor J.B. Collier Jr. said.

”He doesn’t understand the consequences of his actions. He didn’t think through his actions at Scottown.”

On July 3, 1996, Hall started the deadly fire when he tossed a lighted cigarette onto a shelf crammed with fireworks at the Ohio River Fireworks, located in a wooded hollow near the village of Scottown about 100 miles south of Columbus. Nine people died and 11 were injured.

Hall, who has had the mental capacity of a 10-year-old since his brain was damaged in a 1987 skateboarding accident, has been in several mental hospitals since the fire. He has been a patient at the Athens hospital since Oct. 24, 2000.

Hall’s father, James Hall, has said that the staff at the state’s mental health hospitals are not properly trained to work with his son’s disability.

”How can you place somebody in a mental health institution that doesn’t have a mental illness,” Hall asked. ”As far as I’m concerned, Todd’s rights have been violated.”

Some family members of those killed in the blaze oppose Hall’s release.

”I don’t want to see him back on the streets,” Marcia Smoot, who was among the injured, told The Herald-Dispatch of Huntington, W.Va., for a story Saturday. ”He should stay in there. It’s been proven his family can’t control him.”

Smoot’s mother, Kathlene Wilks, died from injuries she suffered in the fire.

A recent report by Beverly Williams, a clinical psychologist, stated that because of treatment, Hall no longer is considered a serious threat to staff or other patients even though he has a history of verbal attacks and hostile behavior toward them. However, the report said, he does continue to need close supervision.

”These are chronic problems that are likely to never be completely ameliorated by treatment,” Williams wrote in the report. ”He is making consistent progress, however, and it is hoped that at some point in the future he may be appropriately considered for conditional discharge to a supervised group home setting.”