By Patrick Yost
Ocmulgee Judicial Circuit Judge Allison Burleson, on recommendations by District Attorney Stephen Bradley, last Thursday, March 28 sentenced Justin Vandiver Slaughter, 23, Madison to two consecutive life sentences in the cold-blooded murder of his mother Paula Slaughter, 54 and family friend Collin Smith, 53.
Judge Burleson, after hearing testimony from Dr. Christian Hildreth, director, forensic services, Central State Hospital, sentenced Slaughter after Slaughter pled “guilty but mentally ill” to two counts of felony murder.
Slaughter was arrested and charged on Dec. 3, 2017 after he shot and killed his mother with a 12 gauge shotgun near the front steps of the family’s Salughter-Veasley Road residence and then turned the shotgun on Smith, who was at the residence completing repairs.
In August Slaughter had been deemed by the court incompetent to stand trail after testimony by Dr. Deborah Gunnin described Slaughter’s “inability to locate time, some discussion of, basically, voices and motivations which are not tied to external realty…”
At Thursday’s hearing, Bradley said after the killings, Slaughter “did not describe any delusions, hallucinations. He doesn’t show any great remorse for it. In fact, he’s somewhat recalcitrant… he shows no irritation at her death and explains it only by talking about his mother in very negative terms.”
Bradley said on Feb. 1 Dr Hildreth issued an opinion that Slaughter was now “criminally responsible” for the two murders. Dr. Hildreth said Slaughter initially declined to take medication for paranoia and anxiety.
Eventually doctors where able to provide medication that “took the anxiety away, took the paranoia away,” Hildreth said.
Bradley said Slaughter told state officials he had “heard voices” for several years but had been afraid to tell friends and relatives because he was afraid he would be committed to a mental institution.
After Slaughter had received treatment at Central State Hospital, Hildreth said, “I do believe he is competent.”
Slaugthter, in both handcuffs and leg manacles wearing a orange and white striped pair of prison overalls, sat next to his court-appointed Public Defender Darrell Mitchell at the 3 p.m. hearing at the Morgan County Public Safety Center. Mitchell made no objections to the state’s recommendation that Slaughter receive two consecutive life sentences and swore Slaughter in to make his plea before Judge Burleson.
At Thursday’s hearing Dr. Hildreth, under questioning from Bradley, said Slaughter “still suffers from a serious mental illness.”
“But he nonetheless is criminally responsible?” Bradley asked.
“Yes,” Dr. Hildreth said.
“Mr. Slaughter does have a diagnosis of Schizophrenia.”
“For about four years he had been experiencing hearing voices as well as some other behaviors that were consistent with schizophrenic behavior,” Dr. Hildreth said.
Relatives from both Slaughter’s family and Smith’s family were present at the hearing but did not address the court.
Bradley told the court that the possibility of the death penalty for Slaughter is “not a realistic possibility… based on the totality of the circumstances.”
After the hearing, Bradley said Slaughter would be incarcerated on the two consecutive life sentences “for a tremendously long time.”
“This is as close to justice as we can manage,” Bradley said.
Sentencing, he said, marked resolution to a tragic series of events and acts.
“This is about as tragic and harmful as it gets,” he said.