Demand builds to keep eye on “werewolf” killer

10 Jul

Douglas Comiskey plans to move in the next six months from Pueblo to Denver,where he has family.

By KIRK MITCHELL | | The Denver Post
PUBLISHED: December 19, 2005 at 4:23 pm | UPDATED: May 8, 2016 at 7:06 am

Pueblo – When Douglas Comiskey said he obeyed the whisperings of werewolves and stabbed to death two elderly Catholic priests behind St. Leander’s Church, some thought he would never leave the state mental hospital.

Eight years later, the paranoid-schizophrenic 29- year-old has twice visited his home a block away from where he killed the priests, spends eight hours a day on Pueblo streets without supervision and is planning to move to Denver in the next six months.

“He committed a horrible, horrible murder. I just assumed when he was that sick he would always be at the hospital,” said retired Pueblo District Attorney Gus Sandstrom, who prosecuted Comiskey and closely watched his progress through the Colorado Mental Health Institute for seven years.

While he originally felt that way, Sandstrom now agrees with Comiskey’s longtime public defender, Doug Wilson, that Comiskey has earned his privileges by taking therapy classes and by following hospital rules. Drugs given intravenously each month and blood tests ensure he is medicated, Wilson said.

But Comiskey’s increasing privileges outside the hospital startled many of his neighbors and church officials on a recent Sunday morning when they saw him helping his adoptive mother, Georgia Martinez, move furniture at her home near the rectory.

Even Comiskey’s supporters, including the brother of one of his victims, say the public is entitled to more information about his movements.

Some neighbors of St. Leander’s Church, where the Revs. Thomas Scheets, 65, and Louis Stovik, 77, were stabbed to death in 1996, say it is reckless to release Comiskey.

“It’s kind of scary because of what he did,” said Mary Lopez, 67, who lives on the same block and sings in the St. Leander’s choir with Comiskey’s mother. “Just like he got out of medication once, he could get out of it again.”

Scheets’ brother, Father Francis Kelly Scheets of Phoenix, said he believes Comiskey, who stabbed his brother 24 times, should not be locked up his entire life.

“You opened my mind and softened my heart,” Francis Scheets replied to Comiskey in a March 2004 letter after Comiskey wrote to him. “I am more convinced that incarceration for schizophrenic’s crimes is not the way for society to go.”

But Scheets said the secrecy surrounding Comiskey’s release is “insane.” “I’m concerned of course,” Scheets said. “I’d want to monitor him.”

State hospital officials, including Comiskey’s psychiatrist, Dr. Elissa Ball, say federal law prohibits them from talking about where Comiskey will live or when he will move to Denver. Contacted by phone, Comiskey declined an interview.

His move to Denver is necessary because he is so recognizable in Pueblo and has family in Denver who can support him, Sandstrom said. The killings had a profound impact on the close-knit southern Colorado city, he said.

Comiskey family members reached in Denver declined to comment.

In high school, Comiskey was a good student and an excellent soccer player, Francis Scheets said. But in the 11th grade Comiskey began showing signs of mental illness and stole a TV and money from his adoptive mother, Scheets said.

After demonstrating bizarre behavior, Comiskey was committed to the psychiatric ward of Denver Health Medical Center for three months in 1995.

Comiskey stopped taking his medication in the months after he left the hospital because of the bad side effects, Scheets said Comiskey’s mother told him. She tried to get him committed into a psychiatric ward of a Pueblo hospital but was turned down, Wilson said.

On Aug. 7, 1996, Comiskey went to a medical doctor for an examination and saw the number “1” on a file folder.

At that point, Comiskey said werewolves whispered to him that he must kill before 1 p.m. or he’d be killed, Sandstrom said.

He drove around southeast Pueblo in a random search for someone to kill. A man at a park didn’t seem right, Scheets said. Voices told Comiskey a teenage boy he saw on the street would kill him if he didn’t act in minutes.

Comiskey grabbed a kitchen knife at his home and drove around the corner to the rectory, Scheets said. Wilson said Comiskey had nothing against the two priests. One had days earlier taken his confession at home.

As Thomas Scheets opened the rectory door just after noon, Comiskey immediately plunged the knife into his upper body over and over. Hearing noise, Stovik came out of his room and Comiskey chased him down, stabbing the retired priest repeatedly. The rectory was splattered with blood.

When Wilson first saw Comiskey in jail, his new client thought himself a werewolf transforming into a vampire, Wilson said.

Comiskey was found not guilty by reason of insanity, and on March 19, 1997, Pueblo District Judge Eugene Halaas Jr. sentenced him to one year to life in the state mental hospital.

Since then, while stabilized on medication, Comiskey has been a model patient, Wilson said.

Because of the horrific nature of Comiskey’s acts, Sandstrom said he originally opposed Comiskey’s advancement through the hospital. Comiskey didn’t complain, he said. He merely retook every group therapy program available, he said.

Comiskey’s move from maximum security to medium and from off-grounds supervised trips into town to unsupervised trips has been a slow, careful process, Wilson said. He said that in 24 years he has never had a more compliant client who was sent to the hospital.

Current Pueblo District Attorney Bill Thiebaut said he has spoken repeatedly with Wilson and hospital superintendent Steve Schoenmakers. When residents complained about seeing Comiskey near the rectory several weeks ago, he called Schoenmakers, who told him it wouldn’t happen again, Thiebaut said.

Comiskey is planning to move to Denver in the spring, Thiebaut said. Comiskey’s mother also intends to move to Denver to help him. “I definitely am going to keep close tabs on this case,” Thiebaut said.

No one knows whether Comiskey will stay on his medication and not repeat his offenses. His doctors believe he’s ready to return to society.

“I can’t think of any guarantees,” Sandstrom said. “If they’re right, he’s going to be OK. If they’re wrong, he can be very dangerous.

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