The Story of Terri’s Murder

 Saturday, January 17, 1987

This was a snowy day and the streets were fairly slippery.  Saturday was a day that Terri would frequently come over to her parent’s house to wash clothes.  Because she was reluctant to drive when the streets were slippery, she asked her father if he would mind driving her to and from her house.  She came over about 9:30 AM and spent virtually the whole day with us.  It was a very pleasant day as we visited virtually the whole period.  She was taken back to her house about 5:00 PM and when she arrived at her house her dad helped her carry the laundry to the house and when we got to the locked door she said, “I suppose Gary won’t even help carry this in”.  Her father then went back home and that’s the last we ever saw her alive.

On Monday, January 19th, Terri’s boss from Devry called our home and said Terri had not reported to work, nor had she called in and that was very unusual for her.  We called her house and all we got was the answering machine.  Her father drove to the house and found it all locked up, but her car was sitting in the driveway.  We repeatedly tried to contact her both by phone and by knocking on the door, but no answer.  Then on Tuesday morning, January 20th, Harriett got off work about 8:00 AM and called Al at Bendix to see what should be done.  (Al had driven by Terri’s house on his way to work and still no answer or change in the condition at the house.)  We jointly decided we should call the police and ask them what to do.  They said could we meet them at the house and they would take it from there.  We met the police at the house and the policeman asked Harriett if she would call the landlord to see if they would give permission to break into the house.  Harriett went to the next door neighbor and Al and the policeman removed a storm window and the policeman climbed into the window and entered the house.  He came out the front door shortly and said Terri was dead.  He did not describe the conditions but assured us she was dead and discouraged us from going into the house.  We called Kathy who lived a block up the street and also called Gary and Bob to come to Kathy’s house, and they all did so.

Gary seemed to have a strong need to look at Terri to be sure it was her, but Harriett had taken a recent photograph with us and the policeman assured us that it was her.  After about 2 hours, (the police had several officers at the scene in the house gathering evidence), Terri’s body was taken to the morgue.  Harriett gave two police a photograph of Gary Rawlings who we felt sure had committed the crime.  I’m not sure at this time why we were so sure he had done it, but he was no where around and his truck was missing.  Events after that are kind of hazy for me to remember (Al) for quite a while.  I remember going to the funeral home and having Gary, Bob and Kathy help us pick out a lot, casket and other arrangements.  I couldn’t tell you what they were but, their help was of extreme importance to both parents.

The day of the Wake, we were called by the police and told they had apprehended Gary Rawlings in Texas.  We were introduced to the Jackson County prosecutor, Matt Whitworth, about 2 months later and he assured us that they had a solid case, because of a confession, and shortly later we were invited to a preliminary hearing where the defense was requesting a mental examination and the court ordered him to be evaluated by the Department of Mental Health.  During the next several months, Harriett repeatedly called the prosecutor’s office to learn the status of the case, (a total of 21 months was to go by before the case was ultimately decided).  Each time she was told that there is nothing going on that you need to be involved in.  During this time there was several different prosecutors, some 6-7 different ones, assigned to the case.  Then one day in November, 1988, Harriett called and was told, “Oh, we accepted the Insanity pleas last week and it’s all over.”  We were not told that this was even being considered nor were we allowed to attend the hearing, be consulted or anything in any way.

He was committed to the Department of Mental Health after being found, “Not Guilty by Reason of Insanity”.  After the decision, we were advised on the phone that this man would probably spend the rest of his days in the mental hospital.

Eighteen months later, the Department of Mental Health made application for him to receive privileges to go out into the community.  They had him placed in what is called an Independent Living status unit at the St. Joseph Missouri State Hospital, which is described as an environment of considerable freedom.  The attached chronology describes the various hearings that occurred through the ensuing months and years.  Every 6 months the Department of Mental Health has requested ever wider release conditions.  Initial hearings were like a traffic ticket, short and final.  Because we got the press involved heavily in St. Joseph the court, in subsequent hearings, spent considerable more time.  One major factor that contributed to the greater degree of analysis was when we got the Missouri law changed to shift the burden of proof for dangerousness from us to those applying for release.  The hearing after this law went into effect took over 7 hours.  One feature that developed, because of our going to the press, was the judge closed the courtroom and we were not allowed into the hearing.  The following year our state enacted a victim’s rights law giving, for the first time, victims some rights in the criminals’ justice system.  (We spent a major part of our time selling this to the voters of Kansas City.)  Anyhow, at the hearing held in November, 1993, the judge opened up the courtroom and we were allowed to stay through the whole hearing.  It lasted about 3 hours.  We feel that if we had not attended every hearing and showed the court our objections to the various applications there would have been no restraint made by the Department of Mental Health to requesting complete releases.  The court has consistently agreed with anything they asked for.  We have not kept him from having unlimited freedom, all paid for by the government, nor have we kept him in the mental hospital, but maybe we have kept the attention on him closely enough to prevent him from repeating his act or another crime.  It is probable that it is just a matter of time until he is completely released and we feel our efforts have kept him probably as long or longer than if he would have received a second degree murder conviction, the major difference is his surroundings are a lot more pleasant than if he was in prison.

We felt that the Missouri law letting people use mental illness as a defense needed to be changed to narrow the application of this as a defense.  Our law had two criteria as a basis; (1)  Did they know what they were doing and, (2) could they control themselves.  The latter criteria has been proven to be so vague and inconclusive that it was virtually impossible to measure.  We got the Missouri law changed to eliminate this latter phrase.  It became effective in August, 1993 and at this writing we have no information on its effectiveness.  It is the criteria used by the federal government.  We feel that Gary Rawlings knew what he was doing for several reasons;  (1) he was very familiar with firearms and knew what they would do, (2)  He fled the state to avoid apprehension, and (3) when questioned he freely admitted the act and confirmed that what he did was wrong.  Because he was faced with a first degree murder charge the only defense he had was mental illness.  He had spent a short period three years before in a private hospital for emotional problems.  The Department of Mental Health was asked to evaluate him and they diagnosed him as having Schizophrenia, which, because of the way the Missouri law was worded allowed him to use it as a defense with no rebuttal.  No jury trial was used and the apparent conclusion was that because he was mentally ill he could not control himself.  Hopefully the next time he tries to use this as a defense for criminal actions the outcome will be different.