(Photos © Elly Blue)
At the Multnomah County Courthouse today, Johnny Eschweiler waived his right to a trial by jury and was found guilty except for insanity on two counts of assault for using his motor vehicle as a weapon in an August, 2007 road rage incident.
Eschweiler was committed to the jurisdiction of the Psychiatric Security Review Board for a maximum of fifteen years. He will be allowed to continue to live in the community under a strict set of conditions, including highly structured psychiatric care, a curfew, and the stipulation that he not in any circumstance operate a motor vehicle.
“A vehicle is a weapon. You are not to have control of a motor vehicle.”
–Judge Michael McShane, Multnomah County
Judge McShane outlined the conditions clearly, which also included having no contact with victims and at no time possessing any weapons, “including a vehicle. A vehicle is a weapon. You are not to have control of a motor vehicle.”
The charges — one count of assault in the second degree for running down Ben Ramsdell, and one count of assault in the third degree for subsequently hitting Timothy Mastne who happened to be riding nearby — were part of a bargain struck in an attempt to ensure Eschweiler receives care appropriate to his psychiatric condition rather than being convicted to a mandatory prison sentence, according to Ramsdell’s lawyer, Mark Ginsberg.
The agreement consisted of Eschweiler waiving his right to a trial by jury and accepting a decision by Judge McShane based on the evidence submitted in the case, including police and detective reports stemming from the incident, and a mental health evaluation.
The Judge read a summary of the mental health evaluation. It included a history of aggression, seizures, and assaults following an illness at age five; foster care and commitment to mental health facilities as a teenager; and a guilty except for insanity verdict in an incident around age 23 in which Eschweiler stabbed somebody with a fork.
At age 25 Eschweiler underwent a temporal lobotomy which entailed removing part of his brain. This procedure impaired his cognitive abilities, particularly short term memory and decision making capacity, but put a temporary end to his seizures and aggressive behavior until a fall nearly 20 years later, in 2000, caused a recurrence of these problems.
According to the report, he is now on medication to control his seizures. He is employed, married, and spends time with his grandkids. He has no criminal history since the stabbing incident 25 years ago.
In his ruling, Judge McShane concluded that Eschweiler’s brain dysfunction did affect him at the time of these crimes and that he “lacked capacity to understand the criminality of his acts and conform his actions to the law.”
“I expected today to be like a sigh of relief. But really, it feels like the first full breath I’ve taken in almost two years.”
— Ben Ramsdell
McShane told Eschweiler, “I cannot emphasize this enough. You are not to drive a motor vehicle. You don’t have the capacity to make the kinds of decisions drivers have to make all the time, at every intersection.”
Any evidence of violation of these conditions, particularly the one that prohibits him driving, will result in Eschweiler being immediately taken into custody.
Eschweiler, who held a valid drivers license at the time of this incident, sat quietly through the proceedings and declined to make a statement.
Ben Ramsdell, the first victim, who Eschweiler hit with apparent intention after Ramsdell confronted him over buzzing him too closely, made a brief statement about his difficulties making a full physical and emotional recovery. “I expected today to be like a sigh of relief. But really, it feels like the first full breath I’ve taken in almost two years,” he said.
— For more background on this story, browse our previous coverage.
Elly Blue has been writing about bicycling and carfree issues for BikePortland.org since 2006. Find her at http://takingthelane.com