First Alert Investigation: Could Jacob Cayer walk free after murdering two Hobart women?
BROWN COUNTY, Wis. (WBAY) - “If people don’t know there’s a problem, they can’t help me fix the problem,” says Sarama Teague.
Her mother and sister were murdered.
Their killer was convicted of homicide, but sent to a psychiatric hospital instead of prison, giving him the chance to one day live in the community again.
The victims' only remaining family member says that is wrong, and the law must change.
It stems from the 2016 Brown County murders of Heesun “Sunny” Teague and her daughter, Sabrina.
As Action 2 News first told you last month, a jury found Sabrina’s ex-boyfriend, Jacob Cayer, guilty of stabbing both women and attempting to kill Joel Kennedy.
In the second part of the trial, the same jury found Cayer not guilty by mental disease or defect.
A judge immediately committed him to the Mendota Mental Health Institute in Madison.
It’s how long he stays at that hospital that has the victims' family demanding change.
We found out, Cayer can begin asking the court in February, and every six months after that, to release him from Mendota.
It can only happen under supervision and if he proves he’s no longer dangerous, but the idea he ever walk the streets again enrages and terrifies the Teague’s only living family member, Sarama.
“At night, I dreamed of them, alive, whole, and on the cusp of being murdered. ‘Don’t go downstairs! He is waiting for you!’ I would shout. He had taken lives that didn’t belong to him," reads Sarama. "He made two beautiful people stop existing. Because no one had the power to undo the injustice of their deaths, I did the next best thing. I put my hopes in the justice system.”
“We, the jury, find the defendant, Jacob Cayer, guilty of first-degree intentional homicide of Sabrina Teague. We, the jury, find the defendant, Jacob Cayer, guilty of first-degree intentional homicide of Heesun Teague. We, the jury, find the defendant, Jacob Cayer, guilty of the attempted first degree intentional homicide of Joel Kennedy,” read Judge Tammy Jo Hock during the first phase of Cayer’s trial in August.
“I had been living for four years to hear those words,” said Sarama weeks later. “I’m glad that I got to celebrate that moment, because the next verdict... that was a moment of grief.”
“I am going to commit Mr. Cayer to the Department of Health Services for a life-term,” read Judge Hock in phase two of the trail on August 13, 2020. “On today’s date, I determine that conditional release would pose a significant risk of bodily harm to the defendant or others, and I, therefore, am going to order that Jacob Cayer be placed in institutional care.”
“I had to immediately leave the courtroom when that verdict came in. It was extremely upsetting,” recalls Sarama.
And for Sarama Teague, no justice.
After numerous delays over four years, Cayer’s trial ended abruptly in the late hours of day four when the judge committed Cayer to a psychiatric hospital.
But because he wasn’t going to prison, there would be no sentencing hearing weeks later.
That night was Sarama’s only chance to address the court, but she was too stunned to speak.
Instead, she reads to us the words she’d planned for the court to hear.
“After the trial ended, I visited their graves, and was struck with a new and different grief I had never had before. ‘I feel so bad,’ I said to the burial plots that are now my mother and sister’s homes. ‘I’m so sorry. I tried so hard, but I couldn’t get you justice. You deserved more. I failed,’" she reads.
Her pain is rooted in that second verdict of not guilty by insanity (NGI).
It over-rides the guilty verdict that would have meant Cayer stayed locked up behind bars for life.
“Part of that verdict is, yes, he did it, and no, that doesn’t change the repugnancy of what he did, but due to his mental state, cannot be held accountable. Well, they really meant that, because if his mental state changes, he will not be held accountable,” Sarama tells us.
Under Wisconsin law, a person committed to a psychiatric facility can begin petitioning the court for release six months after initial confinement.
When we asked Brown County District Attorney Dave Lasee, who tried the case, if Cayer, found guilty by a jury on two counts of homicide, could still have that ability to live in the community and not in prison, Lasee replied, “That’s correct.”
Lasee says the NGI verdict only considered Cayer’s mental state at the time of the murders.
At trial, a psychiatrist testified Cayer was quote “quite psychotic.”
But now, or during any attempt for release in the future, only Cayer’s current mental state matters.
“It doesn’t have anything to do with the underlying act at that point,” explains Lasee. “It has to do the defendant’s dangerousness now.”
We requested the records from the state to see how common this is.
According to data we received from the Department of Health Services, 57 people are currently committed under NGI to a Wisconsin-operated psychiatric facility after committing murder.
That’s about one-third of the 165 people currently committed under NGI for all felonies.
In the last five years, data shows 223 people were released back into the community under conditional release terms.
The law requires that be done under strict supervision by DHS, upon a court order, and only if the person is proven to no longer a danger to themselves or others.
“That’s the law trying to balance mental illness and how it affects people’s behavior,” says Lasee.
The non-profit organization Mental Health America issued a new opinion statement on NGI cases in June, saying it’s ‘unfair, inappropriate and ineffective’ to hold someone criminally liable if they don’t understand their actions were wrong.
“I don’t really have any question that Mr. Cayer suffers from a mental illness. I think he clearly does,” says Lasee. “(But) obviously it was our position though that he still appreciated the wrongfulness of his conduct.”
Before trial, Cayer was declared incompetent, received treatment, and was then found competent.
Sarama says that shows treatment works for Cayer, and she believes he could eventually be released.
District attorney Lasee thinks that could happen, too.
“I’ve had some discussions with people that will say, well, he might be able to, but no sane person would ever let him do that,” says Sarama. “And I have here this instance where it did happen.”
She’s talking about a case in North Carolina, where Michael Charles Hayes killed four people in a shootout in 1988.
He was found not guilty by insanity, then released from a hospital under supervision in 2010.
It’s happened in Wisconsin, too.
Ronald Rickman was found not guilty by mental disease in the deaths of two loggers in 1962.
He was eventually released, and in 1991, found guilty in Brown County of murdering his wife.
After that case, he was sent to prison, where he later died.
Those kind of cases worry Sarama.
Cayer has already contacted her.
“He actually wrote a letter to me while he was in jail (before the trial),” says Sarama. “I have no idea how he got my address. It was really frightening. He told (my mother and sister), no, you are not safe in this home. When he wrote me this letter, it was the same thing. He was telling me you are not safe, and I can find you.”
She says the law needs to work harder to protect victims and maintain accountability for those who commit the crimes.
“I don’t know how, in any way, it is fair or it is just for him to some day be able to be alive again and live freely. I can’t reconcile that,” says Sarama.
You can also read the full statement Sarama wanted to read to the court by clicking here.
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