Fort Worth man accused of stabbing not guilty by reason of insanity

Posted Wednesday, Sep. 25, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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A Tarrant County judge found a mentally ill man not guilty by reason of insanity Tuesday in connection with the stabbing death of a 51-year-old man who had tried to shake his hand.

After hearing two days of testimony, state District Judge Mollee Westfall ordered Donald Steven Bullard to be sent to a maximum-security state mental hospital rather than prison.

Prosecutors Kelly Loftus and Tim Bednarz presented evidence that on May 18, 2007, Bullard stabbed Donald Punch in the neck while they were outside Mike Carlson Motor Co. on Hemphill Street. Punch sought help at a nearby fast-food restaurant but died a short time later.

Bullard was arrested that day in the same area after threatening to cut another man’s throat with a knife. The knife had Punch’s DNA on it from the earlier stabbing. Shortly after his arrest, Bullard was found incompetent to stand trial. This year, psychiatric professionals concluded that he was competent and reported their findings to Westfall.

During the trial this week, Westfall heard from Fort Worth police, civilian witnesses, the defendant’s relatives and jailers, according to Melody McDonald, spokeswoman for the Tarrant County district attorney’s office. The state and defense called mental health experts who reviewed Bullard’s records dating to the late 1970s.

Both experts diagnosed Bullard with schizoaffective disorder with manic episodes, paranoia and delusions. The experts agreed that at the time of the offense, Bullard was legally insane. At the conclusion of the testimony, Westfall found Bullard not guilty by reason of insanity.

To be found not guilty by reason of insanity in Texas, defendants must prove that they suffer from a severe mental illness or defect and did not know their conduct was wrong at the time of the crime. The state and the defense agreed that Bullard was legally insane when he stabbed Punch.

The court can maintain jurisdiction over Bullard for 99 years, the maximum sentence on a murder conviction, the crime of which he was accused, said Greg Westfall, an attorney and Judge Westfall’s husband.

If Bullard is determined in the future to be stable, the court could order him to receive inpatient or community-based mental healthcare, according to the law. Bullard would have to prove to the court that he is not a threat to himself or anyone else in order for the court to place him in a less restrictive situation, Greg Westfall said.

Loftus said: “It’s truly tragic that a citizen in Tarrant County lost his life over a handshake. While this may not be the swift justice the Punch family had hoped for, hopefully the family will find some peace in knowing Mr. Bullard will be confined in a state hospital.”

Mitch Mitchell, 817-390-7752 Twitter: @mitchmitchel3

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