By Bob Allen
An Illinois man who six years ago shot and killed a Southern Baptist minister in a Sunday morning worship service has been found not guilty by reason of insanity and will likely spend the rest of his life in a mental institution.
Terry Sedlacek, 33, faced charges of first degree murder and aggravated battery for killing Fred Winters, pastor of First Baptist Church in Maryville, Ill., on March 8, 2009.
Witnesses said Sedlacek, then 27 from nearby Troy, Ill., entered the sanctuary during the 8:15 a.m. worship service while Winters, 45, was in mid-sermon. Winters, a past president of the Illinois Baptist State Association, paused and stepped from the pulpit to see what the stranger wanted. Sedlacek took out a .45 caliber handgun and fired several times at the pastor, striking him once in the chest and killing him instantly.
Stunned worshippers — some who at first thought they were watching a skit — subdued Sedlacek, but not before he wounded two men with a knife and stabbed himself in the throat. Sedlacek was hospitalized after his arrest. When he recovered from his injuries he was taken to a mental institution and has been in such facilities ever since.
The key legal issue in the case from the beginning has been Sedlacek’s fitness to stand trial. It was finally resolved July 2, when Circuit Judge Richard Tognarelli issued a court order finding Sedlacek was insane on the day of the shooting and stabbings and therefore not guilty by reason of insanity.
Tognarelli, the third judge assigned to the case, first found Sedlacek incompetent to stand trial in October 2009, based on a psychologist’s report that he was schizophrenic and unlikely to be able to participate in his own defense at trial. Tognarelli remanded Sedlacek to custody of the Illinois Department of Human Services for additional psychiatric testing.
Over the next year expert testimony differed about whether the defendant could obtain fitness to stand trial within a year of the original ruling of incompetence, but Tognarelli ruled again in February 2012 that Sedlacek was not making progress. Under Illinois law the case went to a discharge hearing where Sedlacek could be set free, ordered to stay in mental-health confinement or sent to prison. Prosecutors appealed the ruling, but a state appeals court ruled in March 2013 that the circuit court made the right decision.
Sedlacek, who has been receiving psychiatric treatment since age 17, tried during an early court appearance to plead guilty but the public defender entered a plea of not guilty by reason of insanity on his behalf. He was not present for the July 2 hearing.
Sedlacek will remain at the Alton Mental Health Center near St. Louis, where he can be held for a maximum of 85 years. Any future attempt for his release, even if temporary, will require approval from a judge with input from prosecutors and the victim’s family.
Prosecutors say Sedlacek did not know Pastor Winters and was not a member of First Baptist Church. Authorities would not comment on a possible motive, but Sedlacek had marked March 8, 2009, as “death day” in a planning calendar found in his home. Sedlacek carried enough ammunition to kill 30 people, but his semi-automatic pistol jammed after firing four shots.
Winters’ widow, Cindy, was present for the July 2 hearing. She released a statement through the Madison County State’s Attorney office but declined further comment, asking that the family’s privacy be respected.
“In situations such as ours there isn’t an outcome in which one side wins and the other loses, for really we have all lost,” she said. “We are extremely grateful that we live in such a supportive and giving community.”
The mother of two thanked law enforcement and caring individuals who “made all the difference during our time of loss” and requested “prayers for both families involved as we continue to heal and go forward.”
Madison County State’s Attorney Tom Gibbons expressed sympathy to the family, friends and parishioners of First Baptist Church. “This was such a tragic and sad case for those who knew and loved Pastor Winters,” Gibbons said. “March 8th changed their lives forever. Cindy has handled all of this with such grace and dignity. I hope that this provides some peace for Cindy and her daughters and everyone harmed by this terrible and tragic event.”
Cindy Winters, who has a master’s degree in social work and for 10 years directed Pathways, an outpatient counseling ministry of the Baptist Children’s Home & Family Services, founded Grace and Hope Ministries in July 2009 to offer spiritual resources for others experiencing tragedy.
Days after her husband’s death, she said in an interview on the CBS Early Show that she forgave his killer. In 2012 she told her story in greater detail in a book titled Reflections from the Pit. She remarried in 2013 and now goes by the name Cindy Dutton.
Wedgwood pastor to preach Sunday at grieving Illinois church
Slain Baptist pastor hailed as hero, martyr
Church gathers week after pastor slain
Church names successor to slain pastor