Special Report: Mental health and crime

KIMT NEWS 3 — Six years after a crime committed by one of his best friends shocked the community, Aaron Jacobson remembers what Jordan Johnson used to be like.

“He was a riot to be around.  He was always wanting to entertain people and have a good time,” Jacobson said.  “I think people liked Johnson a lot by the time we finished high school.”

That all changed on January 19, 2008.  That’s the day Johnson attacked and killed his mother with the blunt end of a hatchet, and locked his stepfather in the home’s basement.  His defense team entered a defense of diminished mental capacity, but the jury sided with the prosecution and sentenced him to life in prison.

“I didn’t understand that one at all,” Jacobson said.  “I didn’t think there was even the slightest chance he knew right from wrong at the time.  That never sat well with me.”

Jacobson bases that opinion on his history with Johnson.  The two became close in high school and roomed together while attending the University of Iowa.  That’s when Jacobson says Johnson’s mental state quickly deteriorated.

“Very outlandish things that just made no sense at all,” Jacobson said.  “He thought we were working against him and it was really hard to see that in somebody who’s your friend, who’s striking out against you.”

Jacobson describes frightening incidents, like Johnson pounding drumsticks into the wall, seeing arrows in the sky pointing him places, thinking a car’s antenna was being used to control him, and eventually he devolved into threatening behavior toward his roommates.

Jacobson says he and some of Johnson’s friends started looking for places to turn for help.  He describes it as a very frustrating process, but one that eventually led to them getting Johnson committed.  A few days after treatment began, Johnson called Jacobson and was clearly much more lucid.

“They had put him on anti-psychotics.  Very quickly after being on these medications he thanked me for getting him there and told me how terrifying it was.”

Jacobson says during the committal hearing, a doctor described Johnson as needing five months of treatment, so he was shocked to see Jordan and his mother arrive at their door a few days later.  He says his mom blamed the roommates, and insisted Jordan didn’t need to be on medication.  That’s when they began drifting apart.

Months later it would be the murder that brought them together again, when Jacobson testified on his old friend’s behalf.

“I wanted people to understand that he wasn’t a monster,” Jacobson said.

Dr. Dan Rogers, a psychologist based in Fort Dodge, understands where Jacobson is coming from.  He’s been called on hundreds of times to examine defendants, and testified in several trials.  He says when it comes to legitimate psychosis, people need to remember that the sufferer is living in an altered state of reality.

“Often they hear voices and those voices are very real to them. or they’re so persistent that the person has to try to escape the voices and sooner or later they do some things to try to get away from the voices and since this is all based on a sense of distorted reality their behavior is going to be distorted in reality, too, and that’s often dangerous,” Rogers said.

Based on his experience, Rogers says what is needed most of all is a better system of mental health to properly treat people suffering from psychosis before they act on their symptoms.

“The Department of Human Services has been so drastically reduced in size, their administration has been really pretty well devastated, so that’s just not there,” Rogers said.  “That’s a bad state and we’re paying the cost.”

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