Julie Van Orden

This is a case that is very familiar in the area in which I currently live although I did not live here when the crime occurred. I found it interesting that it was yesterday that I did the research on it, it was the next one on my list, since it was announced in the news that Vanderburgh County, where this occurred, had just officially had their “Mental Health Court” certified. As someone who has had to deal with the mental health system here in Indiana I am excited to see this. While strides in this area are slow it seems this is a step forward. This special court was created because there had been a lot of talk about how so many of the criminals who were put into the jail and prison system were mentally ill and not only were they a danger to others, they were not getting the treatment they needed.

Decades ago we were still putting the mental ill, at least those that the public, including families, were forced to acknowledge, into mental facilities and all but abandoned there. If they received any treatment it likely came in the form of shock treatment or in the case of Rosemary Kennedy in experimental lobotomies. The system over the years did not necessarily get better, but got worse in many ways. While it was still fairly easy until about the late 1990's to have someone committed at least for short periods of time to receive treatment that would change, giving the patients not just more rights, but total rights. What this did was allow the mentally ill to make all decisions for themselves. The problem with this is that a vast majority of the mentally ill do not believe that they are and refuse treatment which has become their right. In the same respect these people are not getting the help that they need and then go and commit crimes that have them facing legal ramifications.

Julie Van Orden committed her crime in 1980 and while as I said it was easier to get someone help then, than it is now, it is unclear what exactly her status and family situation was at the time. It would have been easier for a family member to commit her than the city without her cooperation, which it is unlikely that they would have gotten. However, I think few who know this story would argue that Julie Van Orden was seriously ill.

On the surface it appears that Van Orden's problems began when she was adding some sort of an addition to her home in Evansville Indiana. She was described by the city police as a “constant complainer.” I am unsure just where that came from but I am not disputing that claim as her behavior, as I have seen in others, likely qualified her as earning that title. Just what kind of addition she was making to her home is unclear but apparently she had received several building code violations. On March 18, 1980 a city inspector went to her home for another look at the addition. It was said Van Orden threw a brick at his car at some point.

The following morning Van Orden went to the home of Russell Lloyd Sr. Lloyd had been the mayor of Evansville, serving two terms, up until the previous January, just two months prior. However it seems that Van Orden believed that he was still currently the mayor. Whether she was let into his home, or she barged her way in, I was unable to determine. Either way she made it inside the Lloyd home. Russell Lloyd and his wife Genna were still in their sleeping clothes, their son, Russell Jr., who would later run for his own term as mayor, was upstairs in his room. Van Orden would pull out a gun and shoot Lloyd in the kitchen of his own home. He would be shot four times. He would be taken to the hospital where his prognosis was bleak. Officially it seems that he was in what was described as a coma for two days and then died on March 21st. However, while officially the 21st was his date of death reports were that he was essentially brain dead upon arriving at the hospital.

Julie Van Orden was found, arrested and charged with his murder. In December of 1981 a jury found she was guilty, “but insane” after six hours of deliberations. In 1982 she would be sentenced to a term of twenty to forty years in prison. In 2000 she was nearing time to be released from prison when a judge committed her to a mental hospital. It appears that for the next few years she would spend time in a group home in Northern Indiana in Merrillville and then later at the state mental hospital in Logansport. It was in Logansport in 2006 that she attacked a hospital attendant and stabbed them over thirteen times. She would once again be found guilty, but mentally ill for the attempted murder. She would be sentenced to fifty years this time.

Julie Van Orden would die in an Indiana prison in June of 2014.

While I was unable to find more information concerning this issue, I found something that stated that in September of 1993 a judge had overturned her conviction in the Lloyd murder based on the fact that she had been forced to take medication that “masked” her psychological condition for jurors. It appears that this decision was likely reversed on appeal but I found the ruling interesting. While the ultimate goal is obviously to treat the mentally ill not just for their sake but for the sake of others, I do understand what the judge was saying here. How was the jury to understand just how erratic her behavior was at the time of the murder if at the time they saw her she was receiving medication. Considering the time period in which this happened and the lack of truly sufficient drugs at the time it is likely that Van Orden appeared “zombie” like at her trial and very docile. I should be clear in saying that I am not making an excuse for Van Orden but as I have often said in the past there is a fine line between an excuse and a reason. Her mental illness was a reason, not an excuse to not receive punishment. However, in my opinion when they receive only punishment and not adequate treatment then upon release, if they qualify, nothing has changed since the original crime was committed. And, as a proponent of fair judgment in the courts this brings up a very interesting point. Obviously erratic behavior inside the courtroom would have likely caused chaos which courts do not like, but in the same respect it would have given the jury a more accurate look at her state of mind.

This country, or at the very least the state of Indiana, has a long way to go in the treatment of the mentally ill, especially those who commit criminal acts, but at least in Evansville it sounds as if they are moving in the right directions.


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