Friday, October 22, 2010

Utah man with schizophrenia receives diagnosis, prison sentence for murder of brother

From The Salt Lake Tribune:

PROVO, Utah -- In the days before he shot and killed his brother, Eryk Drej put up smiley faces throughout his family’s American Fork home and claimed he could divine where objects came from by tasting them.

But Drej had never been diagnosed with a mental illness, and family members had no way of knowing he was suffering from schizophrenia, according to Utah County Attorney Jeff Buhman.

So when Drej brutally killed his younger brother in June 2005 — shooting him nine times with a handgun, and then beating him in the head with the butt of rifle — the violence came as a complete shock to those who knew him.

Drej later told police he believed his brother was planning to kill a young female and sell her organs on the black market. He also said he had put up a “happy face” to “warn” his brother and “protect him” against “evil,” according to a police report.

On Wednesday, a five-year effort to restore Drej, 37, to mental competence and resolve the homicide case short of trial ended with the defendant going to prison for up to 15 years.

Drej last month pleaded guilty in 4th District Court to first-degree felony murder for the June 1, 2005, slaying of 25-year-old Lukasz Drej.

But by agreement of the attorneys, Judge Lynn Davis sentenced Drej as if the crime were a lesser second-degree felony. Also by prior agreement, Drej was not given credit for the past five years, during which he spent about half the time at the Utah State Hospital and the other half at the Utah County jail.

“We’ve done our best to craft an agreement where he’ll get out [of prison] someday, but still pay a penalty for what was an horrific act,” Buhman told the judge.

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Defense attorney Anthony Howell called Drej “a good guy,” who is now “getting the help he needs. . . he’ll come out of this a better person.”

Drej did not address the court, but Howell said he is “very remorseful.”

Drej’s mother and sister attended the hearing, but chose not to speak.

The defendant’s mother “is speechless,” Howell told the judge. “She loves her son here [Eryk Drej], but feels like she’s lost two sons.”

The sister had written a letter to the judge in which she recalled her dead brother as being “kind and generous and patient and funny and giving and loving.”

The brother was sitting in his pickup truck outside their home and talking on a cell phone when Eryk Drej began shooting.

Buhman said after the hearing that Drej has no record of prior violence. He was a Navy medical corpsman for six years, who later worked at a hospital. The family, originally from Poland, has lived in Utah County since 1983, Buhman said.

Drej was initially deemed incompetent to stand trial, but he later was found competent following treatment at the Utah State Hospital.