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Police Say Mental Patient Stabs Girl to Death at Street Fair

July 29, 1989

MIDDLETOWN, Conn. (AP) _ A mental patient released on an eight-hour pass fatally stabbed a 9-year- old girl at a street fair as her mother and horrified bystanders watched, police said.

Two police officers and a passerby pulled the man off the girl, but not before he had repeatedly stabbed her in the head and chest, police said.

Jessica Short of Wallingford was pronounced dead at Middlesex Memorial Hospital in Middletown, in central Connecticut, a hospital spokesman said.

David Peterson, 37, a patient at Connecticut Valley Hospital, a state mental hospital in Middletown, was charged with murder in what police Chief George R. Aylward called a ″random act of violence.″

Peterson was ordered confined at the hospital for 15 years in May 1988 after being found innocent by reason of insanity on assault and burglary charges, said Martha Lewis, executive director of the state Psychiatric Security Review Board.

Lewis was unsure of his exact diagnosis, but said ″he suffers from a major mental illness.″

Aylward said he was told by the hospital that Peterson was free on an eight-hour pass Friday.

Hospital Superintendent Carl Cappello referred all questions to Lewis, who said the hospital didn’t have the authority to issue Peterson a pass to leave the hospital grounds.

The stabbing took place at about 2:15 p.m., on Main Street, which was closed for an annual sidewalk sale and street fair.

A woman who saw the attack said the girl had just come out of an F.W. Woolworth Co. store, and apparently was walking toward her mother.

″Everybody started screaming,″ said a witness who asked would not give her name. ″Nobody was helping her.″

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