SANTA MARIA, Calif. - "I think he got away with murder", Barbara Clark says about 25-year-old Nicholas Bendle.
Bendle is due to be transferred from the maximum security Patton State Hospital in Santa Bernardino after about three years of treatment for mental illness following his guilty plea for using a hatchet to kill Clark's brother, 69-year-old Fred Holgate back in August of 2009.
"It scares me", Clark says from her home out of state in an exclusive interview with KCOY 12 Central Coast News, "I know my sister-in-law (Holgate's wife) is terribly frightened, she's afraid to talk, it scares me, he shouldn't be released."
Nick Bendle was 19 when he stole a hatchet from a stranger's garage and nearly decapitated Holgate who was out taking his early morning walk in Santa Maria on August 1, 2009.
Bendle and Holgate did not know each other and Bendle had no prior criminal history.
Bendle was sent to Patton State Hospital instead of prison after the judge in his case found him to be legally insane at the time he attacked Holgate.
The prosecution and defense agreed Bendle suffered a "psychotic break" and hallucinations triggered by undiagnosed paranoid schizophrenia and should be found not guilty by reason of insanity.
"There's no cure for schizophrenia", Barbara Clark says, "if he's cured then he's played the system, there's something wrong with the picture."
Now three years later, doctors at Patton State Hospital describe Bendle as a model patient who has made a remarkable recovery from his mental illness and is ready to be moved to a minimum security, but locked, residential transitional facility without the need of further medication.
Barbara Clark says three years in maximum security lockup is not enough time for Nick Bendle given the violent crime he committed, regardless of his current mental health and "remarkable" recovery.
Clark says the passage of time has done nothing to ease the pain of her brother's violent death.
"He's still a young man", Clark says, "I pray to God that he doesn't kill anybody, but I wouldn't trust him, I wouldn't want him living next door to me and I hope the judge doesn't want him living next door to him."
Clark says she and her other family members are resigned to the fact the Bendle will eventually regain his freedom.
"I think its justice denied", Clark says, "you get seven and a half years if you steal money and you have to serve that, he (Bendle) chopped off a man's head with an axe that he didn't even know, no that's not right."
Bendle was expected to be transferred to a 24-hour, locked residential transitional facility in Sylmar, in the San Fernando Valley, but officials there said Bendle would not benefit from their programs given his good mental health.
Now the judge overseeing his case must work with Bendle's defense attorney and the District Attorney's Office to find another, suitable location for Bendle to be transferred to as part of his eventual if not gradual release back into society.
"Its not right" Barbara Clark says fighting back tears, "but there is nothing I can do about it, I have no control, its up to the judge and the psychiatrists, there's nothing I can do but say what Ii feel, that its wrong, its wrong."
Bendle's case returns to Santa Maria Court on Monday for further review at which time a new venue could be decided on for Bendle's transfer.
In the meantime Bendle will remain at Patton State Hospital.