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Posted March 9, 2011 | comments Leave a comment

Judge OKs conditional release in church case

Sutherly, 39, freed from temporary custody, ruled not a threat to self, others

By Ben Orcutt - borcutt@nvdaily.com

FRONT ROYAL -- A Shenandoah County man who barricaded himself inside a local church last summer and held authorities at bay for hours was granted a conditional release on Tuesday.

Warren County Circuit Court Judge Dennis L. Hupp spent a little more than an hour deliberating in his chambers before ruling that Travis Jay Sutherly should be granted a conditional release from temporary custody of the commissioner of Behavioral Health and Developmental Sciences.

"Thank you God. Thank you," Dianne Orndorff, Sutherly's mother, said in the courtroom after being overcome with emotion at Hupp's ruling.

Sutherly, 39, of 1171 Sugar Hill Road, Maurertown, was indicted in October by a Warren County Circuit Court grand jury on charges of felony destruction of church property and breaking and entering to commit a felony on June 20 at Grace Bible Fellowship Church, about four miles east of Front Royal off Va. 55.

Sutherly also was indicted on a grand larceny charge that he stole a pickup from Petrine Construction on June 19. In October, Sutherly signed a plea agreement that stipulates that he be found not guilty by reason of insanity.

Since that time, Sutherly has been treated at Central State Hospital in Petersburg, where two evaluations on whether he should be conditionally released were conducted.

Carol McLain, a clinical psychologist at Western State Hospital in Staunton, where Sutherly also received treatment, testified on Tuesday that Sutherly "does not need hospitalization at this point."

McLain told the court that Sutherly has the skills necessary to be released back into society and an adequate plan is in place to manage his bipolar illness.

"He wants to avoid this from ever happening again," said Sutherly's attorney, Brandon G. Keller of the Woodstock law firm of Allen and Allen. "Bottom line is, he needs to rebuild his life."

However, Commonwealth's Attorney Brian M. Madden argued that more weight should be given to an evaluation performed by Dr. Mahmood A. Rahman, a psychiatrist at Eastern State Hospital in Williamsburg.

Madden said that Rahman recommends in his report that Sutherly remain in the hospital at this time.

"It's not clear that the [outpatient treatment] plan would in effect work," Madden said, adding that some of the same stress factors that may have triggered Sutherly's episode at the church, such marital problems, will still be present upon his release.

Hupp noted that the hearing was about rehabilitation and not punishment, with an overriding concern for public safety. No one was injured in the June incident Hupp said, and added that apparently Sutherly does not pose a threat to himself or others.

Also, Hupp said, there appears to be ample outpatient supervision in place for Sutherly based on a plan developed by Northwestern Community Services.

"I know that they take their job seriously," Hupp said.

Hupp also cited McLain's report as being more thorough than Rahman's, noting that McLain testified that continued hospitalization may be more detrimental to Sutherly than being released now.

Hupp also noted that Sutherly knows he needs to take his medicine and that he is a moderate, low risk to reoffend. Hupp made special mention of the support that Grace Bible Fellowship Church has shown to Sutherly and the church's forgiveness.

"This church family is living up to its Christian principles" rather than the church condemning Sutherly, Hupp said.

Sutherly must abstain from using alcohol as one of the conditions of his release, Hupp said.

Hupp said that he is waiting for an order form, and until he receives and signs it, Sutherly will remain housed in the Warren County Jail.

Meanwhile, Orndorff said she believes that God gave her son back.

"That says it all," she said. "Our prayers were answered. He's going to be fine."

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