Tuesday, October 16 , 2018, 9:23 pm | Fair 61º


Partial Release Ordered for Man Convicted of Hatchet Murder

After acknowledging the horrific crime and its tragic consequences, a Santa Barbara County Superior Court judge on Thursday granted the partial release of Nicholas Bendle, who used a hatchet to nearly decapitate a stranger in Santa Maria five years ago.

Judge John McGregor authorized the transfer of Bendle, 25, from Patton State Hospital to the Gateways Hospital and Mental Health Center in Los Angeles for 90 days, and then to a board-and-care facility operated as part of the state’s Forensic Conditional Release Program in Ventura. 

“The horrendous facts of the underlying offense and the resulting pain and suffering to those affected by it cannot be adequately expressed,” the judge said.

However, McGregor noted that, through multiple evaluations, every medical expert has concluded that Bendle is a candidate for release based on his recovery.

“There is no evidence in any of the reports which will allow the court to make a conclusion contrary to the recommendations,” McGregor said. 

If Bendle violates the terms of his release or commits new offenses, he would be returned to the state mental hospital, the judge noted. 

Bendle, who was not in the Santa Maria courtroom for the ruling Thursday, will remain committed to the Department of Mental Health even while in the less-restrictive settings.

“It’s important to note that he’s not being released from treatment, so he still will be under supervision and treatment with Department of Mental Health,” Senior Deputy District Attorney Kevin Duffy said outside of the courtroom. “However, his housing status will be changing.”

Bendle attacked Frederick Holgate, 69, on Aug. 1, 2009, during his early morning walk on South Miller Street, just south of Stowell Road. The two men did not know each other.

Two years later, Bendle pleaded guilty to first-degree murder as attorneys on both sides agreed he was legally insane at the time of the murder.

Prior to the killing, which was blamed on a severe psychotic breakdown, Bendle had been going to college, held a job, had a girlfriend, and otherwise led a regular life without any signs of mental illness.

Nearly a year ago, attorneys began wrestling with Bendle’s fate after doctors declared him recovered and recommended his release to a less-restrictive program.

One proposal involved sending him for further treatment at Sylmar Health and Rehabilitation Center, also a locked facility.

However, evaluations determined that program wasn’t suitable for Bendle due to “the completeness of his recovery,” Deputy Public Defender Patty Dark said earlier this year.

Thursday’s action does not mean the judge declared his sanity had been restored, according to Duffy.

Bendle has not been on medication for more than two years, and hasn’t shown any symptoms of schizophrenia since then, Duffy noted.

One physician noted that Bendle could easily be mistaken for a doctor, if not for his hospital-issued khaki clothing, Duffy added.

“He’s actually been a model patient during his time in Patton State Hospital, and that weighed heavily in their decision to unanimously agree (to his transfer),” Duffy added. “All the doctors agree, there’s not one dissenting vote on the opinion that he’s ready to be released into the community.”

Another doctor noted that in her 10 years at the state hospital, Bendle is “the most stable patient she has ever treated,” Duffy said. 

The 90-day program Bendle will transition to from the state hospital is in a locked facility, Duffy said. Bendle’s transfer to the Los Angeles hospital would depend upon transportation arranged by the state hospital after the court order is received there.

Bendle could remain in the care of the California Department of Mental Health for the rest of his life, Duffy added.

“None of us can say for sure that he’ll never re-offend and commit another violent offense," Duffy said. "However, I know he’s extremely remorseful for what happened, that he’s done everything that’s been asked from him by Patton State Hospital.”

Duffy also noted the unanimous recommendations of different doctors saying Bendle should be released.

“They’re the experts. The court has to rely on them and our office has to rely on them,” Duffy added. “And it’s their unanimous opinion that he no longer poses a threat to public safety or to himself, and that’s why they’ve agreed for him to be placed in a less-restrictive environment in Ventura.”

Noozhawk North County editor Janene Scully can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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