Dinwiddie man tied to multiple murders was allowed out of mental hospital unsupervised

Posted at 8:05 PM, Apr 25, 2019

DINWIDDIE COUNTY, Va. -- A man who killed his own father was found not guilty by reason of insanity during a court appearance in Dinwiddie County on Friday.

It was the second time in less than four years that Herbert Bland Jr. has made such a plea in connection with a murder.

Bland Jr. was arrested January 7, 2013, after deputies were called to his family’s home on Harris Drive, in the Sutherland section of Dinwiddie.

Inside, they discovered the body of Herbert Bland Sr., who had been shot to death. Deputies also encountered the younger Bland, himself suffering from a gunshot wound, and holding two firearms.

“It was really a shock to me, you know, to really experience that,” said neighbor Gene Winfield.

Detectives determined that Bland Jr. had killed his father after an argument turned into a fight. As CBS 6 found out, the Dinwiddie Sheriff’s Office was familiar with the family.

“We’ve been to the residence before,” said Major William Knott during an impromptu news conference near the scene.

A few hours later, a startling discovery would be made at another house, this time in the Matoaca section of Chesterfield County.

Upon arriving at the River Road home of Barbara Fassett and her daughter Elizabeth, a UPS deliveryman noticed that the glass storm door was completely shattered.

He called police, and when officers responded and entered the house, they found the bodies of the two women. Both had been shot in the head.

It wouldn’t be long before the Dinwiddie and Chesterfield crime scenes were connected.

The common thread was Elizabeth Fassett’s ex-boyfriend: Herbert Bland Jr.

In the days that followed, CBS 6 learned a lot about the troubled young man.

One family member called him a “loose cannon,” and said that Bland Jr. had a problem with his father’s authority.

We also learned that he had a documented history of mental illness.

Once in 2010, according to court records, Bland Jr. stormed into his father’s bedroom and threatened to kill him because the television was getting bad reception.

Herbert Bland Sr. ended up shooting his son during that encounter, but investigators ruled that he acted in self-defense.

As a result, the younger Bland was ordered to undergo routine psychiatric treatment, including taking medications for schizophrenia and psychosis.

That continued for two years, but he fulfilled the court’s requirement in late 2012, just a few months before the killings.

“Signs begin to come out, and sometimes we’re in denial,” said neighbor Odessa Winfield.

“When he was off his medication, the unfortunate things happened… the murder occurred for three people, the ladies of Matoaca and his father.”

Neighbors who have lived down the street from the Blands for decades say they’ve long been concerned by the son’s behavior.

“He has always been in and out of trouble,” said Gene Winfield, referring to Herbert Bland Jr.

The couple says that Bland’s father loved him dearly, but also feared what his son was capable of.

“His father knew something was not quite right,” said Odessa Winfield.

“He said ‘I’m not going to allow him to hurt me… I will not allow him to hurt me.’”

Chesterfield County was the first to indict Bland for murder. But he was declared incompetent to stand trial, so he was sent to Central State Hospital, home to Virginia’s most dangerous psychiatric patients.

Doctors worked for more than two years to restore his mental capacity, and he ultimately went on trial in September of 2015 for the Fassett murders.

During those proceedings, a psychologist testified that Bland had been so out of touch with reality, he killed his ex-girlfriend because he thought that she was a witch.

After an eight-hour hearing, Bland was found not guilty by reason of insanity.

He was taken back to Central State, where many assumed he would be kept locked up forever.

But that’s not what happened.

In January of 2018, Dinwiddie Commonwealth’s Attorney Ann Baskervill and Sheriff D.T. “Duck” Adams say they were each contacted by concerned citizens, who claimed that they had seen Herbert Bland Jr. back at the home where he shot and killed his father.

“I couldn’t believe it, myself, I couldn’t believe it,” said Sheriff Adams.

But it was true.

Doctors at Central State had decided that Bland’s treatment had progressed to the point where he could be released on the weekends, without supervision.

“He is one that they allowed to have day passes and then allowed him to go home to visit his family,” said Sheriff Adams.

Concerned about the potential threat to the community, Baskervill took urgent action, filing a charge by criminal information on Friday, January 19th.

That allowed deputies to immediately arrest Bland, just before he was to be released for the weekend.

One month later, he was indicted by a grand jury.

Bland has been locked up in Meherrin River Regional Jail ever since.

He was supposed to go on trial last November, but that got pushed back to March.

Then, the trial was called off, and a plea hearing was scheduled.

Court records show that in February, Bland’s attorney filed a notice that he would be asserting an insanity defense.

During Friday’s hearing a judge accepted the insanity plea, after calling a recess to review an evaluation by a doctor who indicated Bland believed that he was acting in self-defense when he shot and killed his father.

"The judge ordered him into custody of the Commissioner of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services — which would be Central State Hospital," said defense attorney Terry Driskill.

"He will be evaluated again and if the hospital wishes to give him some conditional release, we’ll have to come back to court for another hearing."

Baskervill did not contest the plea, and says her goal in prosecuting the case has always been to better protect the public.

“Confronting violence and tragedy when it does occur, while administering criminal justice mindfully and respectfully toward a shattered family’s tragedy and the reality of mental illness,” said Baskervill.

“Violence, no matter the circumstances, shakes our community.”

A follow-up court hearing has been scheduled for July 10th.

The Winfields don't think that prison is the right place for the man they have known since he was a child, but they believe it is far too dangerous for Bland to ever be released back into society.

“I do think that he should be contained in a place where he can receive treatment,” said Odessa Winfield.

“Out here, there’s no treatment.”



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