MIDDLETOWN — His doctors said it would be “hard to predict” if David Messenger would ever lapse into the psychotic state he was in when he beat his pregnant wife to death in 1998, but they said at a hearing Friday they felt confident enough in his progress to support an expansion of his freedoms.
The Psychiatric Security Review Board agreed in part later Friday, allowing Messenger to live full time at a Hartford halfway house, but refusing to lift restrictions on Messenger’s travel beyond Hartford County.
A state prosecutor had opposed the expanded travel, noting Messenger owns real estate in Maine and might feel compelled to go there, and Heather Messenger’s family stood firm against the prospect of additional privileges.
“He owns property in Maine; he’s a wealthy individual,” said Assistant State’s Attorney Andrew J. Slitt, who works out of the Windham office. The slaying occurred in Chaplin.
“He’s a man who committed a very brutal crime. We want to ensure that he doesn’t become psychotic again,” said Slitt.
Messenger, 64, has been a patient at Connecticut Valley Hospital in Middletown for 14 years, since his 2001 acquittal by reason of insanity in the slaying of Heather Messenger, in front of the couple’s then-5-year-old son, Dane.
Since 2013, Messenger has lived for six days and five nights per week at a Hartford supervised residence and gets outpatient treatment. He spends a day and two nights at CVH. Friday’s action means Messenger will no longer have to return to the hospital, but he cannot travel to the Middletown, New Haven and shoreline areas, as CVH had requested on his behalf.
“Anytime he’s traveling, scares us,” Hannah Williamson, Heather Messenger’s sister, said in a phone interview from Michigan. Williamson and another family member sent victim-impact statements to the board, whose members considered those sentiments, as well as the testimony of the prosecutor and Messenger’s doctors.
“The more people he comes in contact with, knowing his past explosive personality, the greater the threat to the general public,” said Williamson.
Doctors and social workers testified at the hearing Friday that Messenger enjoys fishing along the shoreline, going to cultural events in New Haven and has friends he made when he attended church in Middletown. He doesn’t have a driver’s license, and anyone he travels with, and anyplace he goes, must be approved beforehand by state probation officials.
But security-board members questioned the need for Messenger to travel beyond the Hartford area. The board also noted that with a curfew of 10 p.m., Messenger could conceivably be out on his own for 16 hours a day. The board supervises about 150 people who were acquitted of crimes by reason of mental disease or defect.
Doctors said he has diagnoses of narcissistic personality disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder, schizophrenic spectrum disorder, in remission, and alcohol and cannabis dependence, in sustained remission. He takes anti-depressant and anti-anxiety medication, said members of his treatment team.
Messenger receives treatment at the Capitol Region Mental Health Center. The responsibility for his treatment now shifts entirely to the community center.
He lives in an apartment inside a halfway house, which has staff on duty around the clock and a locked front door that must be buzzed open.
With six years remaining before a Superior Court judge will decide whether to release him entirely or extend his 20-year commitment, Messenger remains under the supervision of the security review board and will continue to wear a GPS device monitored by state probation officials.
The extension of his leave, called a conditional release, is “considered an important incremental step, but it doesn’t put him in the queue for release,” said Ellen Lachance, executive director of the security review board. “We have had patients remain on conditional release for years and years.”
Williamson said she has spoken to Lachance and understands “there is a general progression [for patients who show stability], but in my eyes, you murdered someone, you admitted it, you profited from it, and you still think you deserve better than she did.”
The hospital would receive regular reports on Messenger’s mental condition and compliance, Lachance said.
CVH in June 2006 blocked Messenger’s supervised visits to First Church of Christ, Congregational, on Court Street in Middletown after then-Mayor Sebastian Giuliano expressed strong opposition, vowing to have a city police officer “stapled to his butt” the moment Messenger stepped off the hospital grounds.
Dr. Kevin Trueblood, a consulting forensic psychiatrist working with CVH, told the board Friday that the halfway house and the treatment providers involved with Messenger had heard nothing from Hartford officials.
Trueblood told Slitt, the prosecutor, that it would be “hard to predict” if any particular stressors would ever trigger a relapse for Messenger, but said the frequent mental-health assessments, urine tests and other safeguards would continue and that Messenger has been compliant and cooperative.
“Is it possible he might become psychotic again and still retain at least partial insight into his behavior?” Slitt asked Trueblood.
“It’s possible,” the psychiatrist said.
Messenger was acquitted of the 1998 slaying in 2001 and spent his initial years at CVH inside the maximum security Whiting Forensic Services Unit.
He later earned a transfer to a less restrictive unit on campus, and then was granted supervised community visits, followed by the temporary leave in 2013. That leave would be expanded if he receives the conditional release.
Heather Messenger’s family has argued that Messenger should not be released to the community because he has access to significant amounts of money that he could use to track them down.
“Our position has been well stated, and we regret the decision that was made and, in doing so, we fear for the people in Hartford who may inadvertently run into the killer,” Daniel Williamson, Heather’s brother, said in 2013.
Daniel Williamson and his wife, Melody, have raised Heather Messenger’s son, Dane, from boyhood at their home in Illinois. Dane is poised to graduate college, Hannah Williamson said.
The Courant has reported that Messenger has access to nearly $2 million in property, bank accounts and investments, including an island house in Maine. His wealth includes a $424,000 settlement of a wrongful death lawsuit filed by Heather Messenger’s estate.
Messenger was allowed to remain executor of her estate because he was acquitted of murder and gave up parental rights to his son.