By Taylor Boyd
A lack of specific details in a proposed conditional release plan was the deciding factor for Patrick County Circuit Court Judge Marcus A. Brinks, who denied the Jan. 11 request at Travis Hazelwood’s annual review.
“I just don’t see a very structured plan for Hazelwood to have his life managed properly,” Brinks said.
In 2016, Hazelwood, of Patrick Springs, was found not guilty by reason of insanity of first-degree murder and use of a firearm in commission of a felony in connection with an incident during a 2014 hunting trip during which Larry Gilliam, 63, of Claudville, was killed.
In arguments opposing the release, Patrick County Commonwealth’s Attorney Stephanie Vipperman said Hazelwood did not meet all the requirements, or follow the rules set forth by the Southern Virginia Mental Health Institute.
“It says that Mr. Hazelwood has been attending group sessions about 75 percent of the time. The required percentage for attendance by the Mental Health Institute is 80 percent,” she said.
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, Hazelwood would go to his apartment for 48 hours, then go back into the hospital for 1 to 2 days, and then go back out on another 48–hour pass. He could not stay out longer than 48 hours, like a work-release program used in jails or prisons, according to testimony.
After the pandemic, his 48-hour community passes were suspended. “So, he wouldn’t attend group sessions even though he was living where they were held,” Vipperman said.
She added that Hazelwood’s triggers also have not been identified, except for a memory of a car crash in which he was convicted of reckless driving.
“Doesn’t this mean we can’t predict if or when he might” snap, Vipperman said. “I guess we just have to hope that he doesn’t see” a car crash.
Hazelwood’s personal care was also called into question by Vipperman, who noted that he was receiving his medication via injections.
“Doesn’t him taking the medical injections show that he can’t be trusted to take the oral medication on his own,” she said, and added that while in jail, Hazelwood refused to take the pills because of a change in colors due to the manufacturing company.
“While in the hospital, he had to be reminded by a nurse to brush his teeth. Do you think that shows that he can live on his own or take care of himself,” she asked, and noted that key parts of the plan, like the community service board reports, were not included in the information she was given.
“I feel like we’re jumping the gun today,” she said.
“We have to let the professionals do their jobs. We have to let them do what they’re trained to do,” said Alan Black, Hazelwood’s defense attorney. He noted that Hazelwood has experience being released into the community.
“He gets two, 48-hour release passes a week. So, he’s out four days a week under Phase Six of the release plan,” Black said, adding under Phase Eight, Hazelwood would be out seven days a week.
“Mr. Hazelwood has been in a hospital for nine-and-a-half months, and out for 12 days, and now we’re going straight to completely free,” Vipperman said.
Dr. Clinton Comer, director of Psychology and Forensic Services at the Southern Virginia Mental Health Institute, said going from Phase Six to Phase Eight is standard, and Phase Seven, while “not a common practice, could be included if the court ordered it.”
Comer said Hazelwood has been living four nights a week at his apartment in Danville while out on his 48-hour passes. He said Hazelwood is a paid employee at Goodwill, also in Danville, and his hours were cut from working 4-days a week to 3-days a week due to a lack of funding.
Comer said he has not observed Hazelwood at his apartment and noted that his apartment is not searched for illegal substances or firearms.
Jennifer Miller, a social worker at the institute in Danville, said Hazelwood has been stable “over the past three years.” She noted he also received a promotion and more freedom at work.
Andrea Lee, a case manager at Danville-Pittsylvania Community Services, said she would be one of the people responsible for Hazelwood under the conditional release plan. “I’ll make sure he attends his appointments, schedule his appointments, make sure he attends group sessions,” she said.
“For the first six months I will be in contact with Hazelwood once a week at minimum,” Lee said, adding these contacts could be conducted either at his house or her office. Lee did not state what punishment Hazelwood would be given if he did not follow the guidelines of his release.
Kevin Easter, Gilliam’s stepson, opposed the conditional release plan.
“I’m here so the court doesn’t forget that Mr. Hazelwood isn’t the victim here,” he said. “Larry was a pillar in the community.
“The average American knows about 600 people, I looked it up. His death book had 816 signatures in it,” Easter said, choking back tears as he added that more people came up to him later and apologized for not signing the book due to the long line.
“My opinion, which probably doesn’t hold much weight in court, is that he (Hazelwood) shouldn’t be out. The punishment doesn’t fit the crime. I know everyone here has sounded so Physical activity
guidelines for children, adolescents and adults about letting Mr. Hazelwood out, but I have my doubts. I don’t want him out. I don’t want to see him out,” Easter said.
Hazelwood’s next annual review is scheduled for Jan. 10, 2022.