By Kim Ngan Nguyen | The Denver Channel
DENVER — A jury has ruled the mental health facility that released a mentally ill man three years ago is 50 percent at fault in the death of a convenience store clerk he killed.
The Mental Health Center of Denver must pay $6.3 million to the family of the 7-Eleven clerk who was gunned down after Dale Baylis was released from Princeton House, which the Mental Health Center of Denver operated.
Natnael Mulugeta, a 27-year-old of Ethiopian heritage, was shot and killed by Baylis on May 2, 2009.
Baylis had been released from Princeton House five months earlier, on Dec. 1, 2008. The court, in agreeing with recommendations to release him and let him live with his mother, ordered the Mental Health Center of Denver to follow up with Baylis.
“They were ordered to perform or arrange to perform monthly random drug screening, assign a new case manager and perform home monitoring — none of which they did,” said attorney John Case.
That monitoring was crucial, Case argued, because Baylis has a history of violence when he uses drugs and marijuana made him paranoid.
“His mother testified that he was using marijuana again about a month after getting out of Princeton House. If he had a single urinalysis, this would have been detected,” Case said.
During this trial Baylis testified that he had been using marijuana a long time before the shooting and had been hearing voices in his head telling him to shoot the 7-Eleven clerk or the mob would get him.
On the day of the shooting, Baylis grabbed his mother’s hunting rifle, went to the garage found bullets and drove to the 7-Eleven near his house.
“He sat in the car for about 30 minutes and thought about what he was doing, crying and struggling with the voices,” Case said.
He walked in and shot at Mulugeta twice, but Mulegeta ran out and Baylis thought he missed.
However one bullet went through and through and before Mulegeta collapsed he called his younger sister, and left a voicemail saying goodbye. He then called 911 and was on hold for 14 minutes, Case said.
Mulegeta was eventually found between two homes.
Baylis pleaded guilty on Feb. 4, 2011 to second-degree murder and was sentenced to 30 years in prison.
On Thursday, a Denver jury found that the Mental Health Center of Denver was partly at fault in Mulugeta’s wrongful death and awarded compensatory damages to the victim’s father of $1.1 million, and punitive damages of $5.2 million.
The jury also awarded $23,751 for funeral expenses to the dead man’s estate.
On Friday night, the Mental Health Center of Denver issued the following statement:
“First and foremost, we want to express our sympathy to the Mulugeta Family. Losing a loved one in this way is an unthinkable tragedy – our thoughts and prayers have been with them since the moment we learned of this deplorable act of violence. The court’s ruling is unfortunate in that we don’t believe it properly reflects true accountability in this case. We will seriously consider an appeal. This was indeed a criminal act – Dale Baylis, who committed the crime, pled guilty and is currently serving his sentence. His mental health was not an issue in that plea. He is solely responsible for the crime.
“At the Mental Health Center of Denver, we value life. The cornerstone of our mission is focused on recovery. We believe that mental illness can and should be treated and every individual has the power to succeed. However, mental illness cannot and should not be confused with criminal activity. This is an unfortunate incident carried out by a single individual.”
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