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Fitness to stand trial still unclear for Dixon school shooter

Prosecutors want Milby and forensic psychologist to testify

DIXON – More than five months since he was last found fit to stand trial, the current fitness is still unknown for Matthew A. Milby Jr., who investigators say in 2018 walked into Dixon High School with a rifle and opened fire near teachers and students.

That was the result of a hearing Friday, during which Ogle County Judge John C. Redington granted an agreed-to motion made by Lee County prosecutors and Milby's attorney, Thomas Murray, of Dixon, to postpone a ruling on Milby's fitness so that forensic psychologist Steven Gaskell could testify in-person to his evaluation.

"The parties believe that Dr. Gaskell's testimony would help on the issue of the defendant's fitness," Lee County First Assistant State's Attorney Brian Brimm said during the 20-minute hearing.

Redington approved the joint motion, setting a new fitness hearing for Nov. 24. The morning of the hearing, Redington said, Gaskell could meet again with Milby.

Court records show that Gaskell met with, interviewed and performed psychological testing on Milby, 21, at the Lee County Jail on Sept. 23. He made a fitness evaluation based on those interactions in a report completed on Oct. 5, records show.

Gaskell's evaluation and any observations he makes during his meeting with Milby the morning of Nov. 24 will be subject to questions from prosecutors and the defense, Lee County State's Attorney Charles Boonstra said after Friday's hearing.

Boonstra, who has reviewed Gaskell's report, wouldn't reveal the fitness determination Gaskell made in it, but said he supported the joint motion because he read something in the report he wants Gaskell to speak to in-person.

Prosecutors also told Redington Friday they intend to call Milby to testify during next month's fitness hearing, a move they have not made in any of the four previous fitness hearings.

"The people believe that because the fitness issue is a civil issue, we intend to call Mr. Milby to the stand during his fitness hearing," Brimm said. "Like any other civil proceeding, no questions would be asked relating to the underlying criminal proceeding."

Redington ordered prosecutors to submit a brief on their motion to call Milby by Nov. 2, and Murray to submit an objection, if he has one, by Nov. 16. Redington will then decide whether Milby can be called at the Nov. 24 hearing.

Redington will also have the final say on whether Milby can stand trial, with or without testimony from Milby. Redington's ruling will also bookend a decision he made earlier this month to strike the case's Oct. 28 trial date out of concerns related to the coronavirus pandemic.

Milby, who has been in custody since the May 16, 2018 shooting, appeared Friday in the courtroom wearing a surgical mask and rubber gloves.

He was first found fit to stand trial in March 2019, despite forensic psychologist James "Matthew" Finn testifying that Milby refused to eat to the point where he was hospitalized. Milby was transferred to the Elgin Mental Health Center and showed signs of improvement, leading to a fit for trial declaration in early September 2019.

Finn testified in January that Milby was diagnosed in Elgin with schizotypal personality disorder and was prescribed anti-psychotic and anti-depressant medications. Redington ruled him unfit for trial due to mental illness, and in March the two sides agreed to pause the case so Milby's fitness could again be evaluated.

One month later, Finn reported and Redington ruled Milby fit to stand trial.

In August, Milby refused to cooperate with Finn during a pretrial reassessment, leading to an incomplete determination on Milby's fitness. Murray motioned, and Redington allowed, for Gaskell to be appointed as a second evaluator.

Boonstra wanting to call Gaskell and Milby to testify on the fitness determination could signal that Gaskell's evaluation is one that finds Milby unfit to stand trial.

If so, then calling Gaskell and Milby to testify would give prosecutors another chance to challenge the hypothetical unfit determination, giving Redington another perspective through which he could rule Milby fit.

Conversely, if Gaskell has already found Milby fit to stand trial, then his testimony and Milby's would serve to reinforce the determination and give more support for Redington to agree.

Boonstra and Brimm would not confirm either approach, only explaining that the fitness evaluation, Gaskell's testimony and Milby's potential testimony would each represent a snapshot of Milby's fitness.

"When you put those three snapshots together," Brimm said. "the court will get a more full, better picture."

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