FRANKLIN — A state district judge ruled Thursday that a man claiming to be the “son of God” is too mentally ill to stand trial for the violent deaths of a police officer and another man in Charenton in 2013 and instead ordered him to undergo psychiatric treatment at a state hospital.
District Judge Keith Comeaux made the ruling after hearing two psychiatrists testify that Wilbert Thibodeaux suffers from schizophrenia and is incapable of helping his attorneys in a trial with the death penalty at stake.
Comeaux ordered Thibodeaux transferred to the Eastern Louisiana Mental Health Center in Jackson, where doctors will try to tame the 49-year-old man’s schizophrenia with drug therapy.
Thibodeaux, who appeared at the hearing Thursday but said nothing, is staying in the mental ward at the Elayn Hunt Correctional Center in St. Gabriel.
Two psychiatrists testified during the 2½-hour hearing that Thibodeaux believes he is the son of God.
As part of his ruling, Comeaux ordered that all documents used at Thursday’s hearing, including psychiatric reports, be sealed from public view.
Authorities say that on Jan. 26, 2013, Thibodeaux killed Charenton resident Eddie Lyons, 78, and set fire to Lyons’ mobile home. They say Thibodeaux then shot to death responding Chitimacha Tribal Police Sgt. Rick Riggenbach and wounded two St. Mary Parish sheriff’s deputies, who have since recovered.
Comeaux’s decision was not welcome news to Riggenbach’s family.
“I don’t feel justice has been served,” Riggenbach’s wife, Bonnie Riggenbach, said. “Hopefully, they’ll restore his competence so he can stand trial.”
A grand jury in March 2013 charged Thibodeaux with two counts of first-degree murder and two counts of attempted first-degree murder.
Prosecutor Anthony Saleme later indicated the District Attorney’s Office would seek the death penalty against Thibodeaux. A trial date has never been set.
At Thursday’s hearing, psychiatrists Sarah DeLand and Michelle Garriga testified Thibodeaux believes he is the son of God. The doctors based their conclusions that he was too mentally ill to stand trial on Thibodeaux’s mental history and on their evaluations of him in July.
“He indicated that he was shot 30 times and all the bullets bounced off of him,” DeLand said. She said Thibodeaux engages in “magical thinking” and embraces his belief that he’s the son of God because of the 30 imaginary bullets that didn’t penetrate his skin.
“He has the idea that all this will be sorted out when people realize who he is,” DeLand said.
Garriga said Thibodeaux believes he can heal the sick and that “he was definitely chosen by God.”
Both psychiatrists also testified they didn’t believe Thibodeaux was faking his mental illness to stay out of prison and death row.
“No, the opposite,” Garriga said. “He doesn’t think there’s anything wrong with him.”
As a teenager, Thibodeaux started having psychotic breaks with reality, DeLand said, referencing a report both doctors were given on Thibodeaux’s mental history.
As a child, Thibodeaux was taken from his mother because of neglect and lived with a Charenton family that took him in. He didn’t do well in school — D’s and F’s — and exhibited signs of “mild intellectual disability,” which DeLand said was formerly called mild mental retardation.
According to a report on Thibodeaux’s mental history, DeLand said, he experienced his first psychotic episode at age 18 and was sent to Central Louisiana State Hospital in Pineville for treatment. At 24, he was diagnosed with schizophrenia.
In December 2012, weeks before the shootings, Thibodeaux was staying in Beaumont, Texas, and hit a family member with an ax. Beaumont authorities put him in a local hospital, then loaded him on a bus to Lafayette. He then made his way back to Charenton, where he grew up.
Thibodeaux’s smiling demeanor as he walked around the courtroom after Thursday’s hearing with chains binding his wrists and ankles bothered members of Riggenbach’s family.
“The thing that gets me is, he’s happy about it,” said Alesha Chamberland, one of Riggenbach’s daughters.