Oh ‘Dear. If it wasn’t for the fact that someone was murdered it might be funny. Anyway, lets hope none of us are related.
By the time Thomas Leask was finished, a former mayor was dead, several city buildings were damaged and his house was on fire. Leask, a part-time snowplow driver, admitted Friday he shot former Mayor Willie Morrison to death Thursday and used a huge construction vehicle to tear apart this Rocky Mountain town. He did not say why. “I don’t wish for any legal counsel because I plead guilty to all of it,” Thomas Leask said during an initial court appearance Friday. He was held without bail and faces first-degree murder and other charges. Leask, 50, was arrested about four hours after he shot Morrison in the town hall, where the former mayor was attending a meeting. He then hopped into a front-end loader and began running into buildings throughout this town of 150 people about 100 kilometres southwest of Denver.
Residents said Leask had battled with town officials because he objected to being forced to use the town’s water system. The water treatment plant was one of the buildings hit, knocking out service and sending thousands of gallons of water into the streets, which soon were covered with ice. The fire station, all three fire vehicles, the town hall and the post office were also heavily damaged. Some telephone lines were cut, interrupting service.
Deemed mentally competent after a lengthy stay at the state hospital, Thomas Leask was ordered to stand trial in connection with a deadly 1998 rampage in Alma, but a dispute with his attorney over a plea has snarled matters.
Leask, wearing a patch over one eye, told District Court Judge Kenneth Plotz that he wants to represent himself and plead guilty in the slaying of former Alma Mayor Willie Morrison, while courtappointed attorney Nick Lusero entered a plea of not guilty by reason of insanity.
“Mr. Leask clearly does not want me to enter this plea,” Lusero said, revealing the dispute over a gray area of law – namely, if an insanity plea may be imposed on an unwilling defendant.
The hearing nonetheless marked a sudden and striking shift in the case after Leask had been ruled mentally incompetent last October because psychiatrists determined he suffered from delusions. But two doctors from the Colorado Mental Health Institute in Pueblo testified last week that Leask now is capable of understanding the proceedings and can assist his attorney with his defense – even if he is unwilling to do that – making him competent to stand trial.
His defense at trial is a different matter, however. If he employs an insanity defense and is found guilty, he would be sent to a mental institution, not a prison.
Leask is accused of first-degree murder in the execution-style slaying of Morrison, a popular “industrial artist,” and of a bizarre rampage on a bulldozer that plowed into the town hall, fire station, post office and water-treatment facility in February 1998.
After asking Leask a variety of questions about his understanding of court processes, Plotz ordered another psychiatric examination and set a July 19 hearing date to determine whether to accept the insanity plea or to allow Leask to represent himself.
“At this point in time, I still have a great deal of concern about this case,” Plotz said. “I’m not sure at this point that Mr. Leask fully understands the consequences of waiving his right to an attorney.”
Lusero noted Leask was given the eye patch as treatment for a possible brain tumor and insisted his client has a medical condition that could affect his competency. But Leask, speaking clearly and coherently, said he understands the gravity of the 13 felony charges against him and won’t regret the decision to represent himself, despite Plotz’s warnings.
“I’m 51 years old. I have strong convictions as to what I believe and what I don’t believe. I just feel it in my heart, your honor. When I feel something like that, I have no doubt that it’s true,” Leask said. That statement buoyed members of Morrison’s family, who have steadfastly traveled from New Hampshire for each hearing in the case.
“We just want justice to be served,” said Jane Morrison, Willie’s sister-inlaw. “It’s not a vengeful thing that we want. But he committed a crime and should be penalized.” The family does not want to pursue the death penalty but would like to see Leask locked up in either the state hospital or a penitentiary “for the rest of his life,” said Willie’s oldest brother, Blythe.