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Officials Scrutinize Release of Man Who Later Killed Himself, Family

August 9, 1991

ODESSA, Texas (AP) _ Officials at a state psychiatric hospital on Friday were scrutinizing a decision to release a man who killed his wife and three children one day later and then fatally shot himself.

″Based on hindsight, he would be here right now, and the hospital wouldn’t be in the pain it’s in,″ said Ed Moughon, assistant superintendent of the state hospital in Big Spring.

″It’s an extremely sad, terribly sad experience for us,″ he said.

Richard Law, 23, shot his wife, Teresa Gail Law, 20; a stepchild, Kyndra Sue Maxwell, 4; and his sons, Richard Allen Law II, 3, and Robert Lee Law, 2, authorities said.

Law bought a .357-caliber revolver at a pawn shop about an hour before the killings Thursday, police said.

Sunday night, Law was taken to the hospital 60 miles northeast of Odessa on an emergency warrant. Friends told police Law cut himself on the neck with a knife and said he would buy a gun and kill himself in front of his wife, who had told him she was leaving him.

After two days of tests, hospital officials told state District Judge Ben Lockhart of Big Spring on Wednesday that they could no longer justify holding Law against his will. The judge ordered Law released.

The recommendation on whether to keep a patient, Moughon said, involves interviews, testing, and staff observations.

Patients can be held against their will for more than 24 hours only by court order, and the law specifies that within 72 hours of that order, the court must conduct a hearing.

At Law’s hearing, ″the staff couldn’t substantiate that the patient was a danger to society,″ Moughon said. ″Obviously, they did not think this would be an action pattern the patient would take.″

Lockhart said his recommendation came on the advice of the hospital.

″If they had said ‘Keep him,’ I would’ve said to keep him,″ Lockhart said.

The judge said Law ″seemed real normal. It’s a sad state of affairs. I was sorry to hear about it.″

Mrs. Law’s father said he was astounded by the release.

″Anybody as bad a shape as he was, stabbing himself in the throat ... and then they turned him loose, that is uncalled for. That is not right,″ said Ernest Maxwell, who lives in Odessa. ″My daughter didn’t even know he was coming.″

Moughon said Friday that Law’s release ″will be examined - it already is being examined 1,000 different ways - to determine how to improve what we do and to provide better care.″

Deputy Chief of Police Barbara Gillis said Law told officers Sunday that he had twice before tried to commit suicide more than five years ago. Ms. Gillis said before Law was committed to the hospital, he told a patrol officer he planned to buy a gun to kill himself.

But Ms. Gillis said Law had no medical records of prior mental illness or depression.

Dolly Thomas, owner of a restaurant where Law was a cook, said Law’s personality did not fit the crime.

″Richard was a very good employee,″ Mrs. Thomas said. ″He was responsible, he carried keys to the building, he knew the combination to the safe. He was the kind of guy you go to bat for because you want him around.″

Law frequently talked about his two boys, she said.

″You could tell he loved those kids,″ Mrs. Thomas said. ″The Richard everyone is hearing about right now is not the Richard we knew.″

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