SANTA MARIA, Calif. - A Santa Maria man sent to a state mental hospital for using a hatchet to murder an elderly man five years ago appears ready to be released.
The rehabilitation of 25 year old Nick Bendle is being called "complete" and "remarkable" and without medication.
The then 19 year old Nick Bendle confessed to police he used a hatchet he stole from a friend's garage to nearly decapitate 68 year old Fred Houlgate who was taking his routine early morning walk around the neighborhood in August of 2009.
His defense attorney argued in court at the time that Bendle, who had no prior criminal history or record of mental illness, experienced a sudden "psychotic break" brought on by undiagnosed schizophrenia and that he was unable to control his violent behavior.
The judge agreed and sent Bendle to Patton State Hospital.
Now the court is preparing to release Bendle from Patton to a less restrictive residential facility in Sylmar, in the San Fernando Valley, later this year after only five years in confinement.
"This has been a remarkable recovery", says Bendle's defense attorney Patricia Dark, "one that has been unusual, and very frankly considered by the mental health treatment providers as a very complete recovery."
Those close to the Houlgate family say not only are they stunned that Bendle could be released from Patton State Hospital so soon but they are also fearful he could return to the community.
Bendle's defense attorney says if he is released to the Sylmar facility he could be there for anywhere from nine months to two years and adds Bendle has no plans to return to Santa Maria.
"He will still be in a locked facility, still be subject to 24-7 supervision", Dark says, "I think the court's primary concern is not only community safety but the community be comfortable with how this case is developing."
The judge will likely decide on Nick Bendle's release from Patton State Hospital after undergoing further evaluation and when the case returns to Santa Maria Court next month.