Deaf man charged in slaying had mental problems

Posted at 11:36 PM, Mar 28, 2012
and last updated 2012-03-28 23:59:01-04

RICHMOND, Va (WTVR)- Born deaf, 37-year-old Freddie Lee Cephas is charged with Monday’s stabbing death of Hazel Jackson, his 53-year-old girlfriend, in her Varina home.

She had sworn out a protective order against him last fall, saying he threatened to burn her and house down. It wasn’t his first threat against her, according to a police report.

The year before, Cephas allegedly stabbed another girlfriend seven times in her side when she refused to have sex with him. She later refused to testify and the charges were dropped.

Cephas has a long history of arrests, incarceration, drug abuse and treatment in mental health facilities. His father was murdered in Gilpin Court when he was young. His mother recently died of cancer.

His aunt, Connie Robinson, has been a tireless advocate for him, saying his trips to jail and mental hospitals didn’t help or made things worse because those facilities weren’t able to cope with his deafness.

Cephas himself once wrote that he was a victim, discriminated because of his disability. A decade ago, he was the subject of an in-depth article in the Richmond Times-Dispatch about the lack of adequate care for deaf inmates in Virginia’s penal system.

What of the actual victim in this case? We haven’t been able to reach family members of Hazel J. Jackson. An acquaintance said she and Cephas met at the Richmond Behavioral Health Authority. She was a fan of jazz and once sang in a combo. She had a Mustang and was a member of a local car club.

Connie Robinson told me tonight that her fight has been for her nephew to get the meaningful mental heath treatment that he has needed for years.

She compared it to the 2007 fatal stabbing of Susanne Thompson on Broad Street by a stranger – 53-year-old Johnny Hughes - who was so disturbed he wasn’t tried for the murder.

She asked, how many more is it going to take?

There are countless other examples of the mentally ill  who have snapped, from the original Tech shooter to the more recent one.

We hear a loud cry about health care and the need for better services, but it’s the mental health care system in this nation that is really costing us – sometimes in flesh.

As a longtime reporter, I’ve written this story again and again. Here’s just one column I wrote a few years back:

Perhaps 2005 will go down as the year that slapped us out of our stupor when it comes to dealing with mental illness.

You know many of the stories and the faces:

Ben Fawley, the suspect in the nationally followed death of Virginia Commonwealth University freshman Taylor Behl, gave us a firsthand look at his dark, bipolar mind with his online journals.

Triple murderer/Terminator Daniel Bowler’s tattooed face and maniacal grin rubbed our noses in his wildfire psychosis.

When Yolanda Michelle Phillips of Chesterfield County shot her two young children and then herself in July, those who knew her wondered what had snapped.

Just last week, we read about Joe Casuccio’s long battle with manic-depression that ended when he shot himself to death after stalking and killing his former girlfriend, De’Nora Hill.

Also last week, Air Marshals in Miami shot and killed a bipolar passenger who claimed he had a bomb.

In July, this space chronicled the sad end of poet/musician Marc Kuykendall, who used heroin and other drugs to ease his mind, as do so many with mental problems.

Depression inflamed by alcohol led Walter J. Fox Jr. to hang himself from an Interstate 95 overpass in April.

The cost in lives and money is staggering. Mental illness is frequently at the center of homelessness and substance abuse. It breaks up families, ruins careers. Legions of people receive disability checks because they can’t function.

Our jails are filled with people with diagnosed and undiagnosed mental problems. I suspect many of those pushing the boom in bank robberies are committing a nonfatal version of police-assisted suicide.

They can’t handle the complexities and pressures of freedom.

Virtually every one of you reading this has felt the effects of mental illness in one way or the other.

And yet, our system of providing mental-health care is woefully weak. We’re great when it comes to fixing bad hearts and hips, but you can really lose your mind if you’re seeking help with a bad brain.

Those who have money and get help, such as Joe Casuccio, sometimes don’t fare any better than those who are destitute, such as Daniel Bowler.

“The situation in Virginia for years has been shameful,” state Sen. Janet D. Howell, D-Fairfax, said last week.

She spoke as outgoing Gov. Mark R. Warner announced a $460 million plan to upgrade the state’s mental institutions and community mental-health services.

“This is a priority for Virginia right now,” said Bill Foy, spokesman for the state mental health department.

On Friday, the Virginia State Bar staged a conference here that brought sheriffs, judges, special justices, lawyers and mental- health practitioners together to plan a reform of the state’s mental- health laws to better help those who have lost control of themselves, such as Joe Casuccio.

We can help by raising as much Cain about mental-health research and spending as we do about AIDS or breast cancer, and by realizing that someone with faulty wiring in the head is no different from someone with a heart defect.

And finally, if you or a loved one is suffering through a mental illness, know that you’re not alone. Support groups can be found through the Community Services Board in your area.
Know that a healthy diet and regular exercise always help, and drugs and alcohol always make it worse.

And please, never give up.