• 9 Investigates: Can Florida prevent tragic crimes by the mentally ill?


    ORLANDO, Fla. - It's been one week since investigators said a man beat three people to death with a baseball bat in Tavares.

    Police said when James Jones, a diagnosed schizophrenic, went after longtime girlfriend Shannon Ratliff, she called family members for help.

    Channel 9's Karla Ray found the three victims knew Jones might snap, and so did investigators, yet he still couldn't get help.

    Ratliff knew Jones suffered from mental illness for years, long before investigators said he beat Ratliff, her mother and her brother to death with a metal baseball bat last week.

    "Something had happened to him, and he wasn't acting right," said the Rev. John Swiney, who knew Jones and the victims. "You could see it in his eyes, from what I understand."

    9 Investigates found Jones had been mentally evaluated many times under the Baker Act. The law forces anyone who appears to be a threat to themselves or the community to remain in custody for 72 hours. It's meant to determine whether the individual would benefit from mental health treatment.

    "Our concern is that we get these folks the help they need because we think they're a danger," said Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd.

    The Jones case is the latest central Florida tragedy involving someone formerly committed under the Baker Act. It is also similar to one Judd worked earlier this summer.

    David Smith killed his sister, her partner and their friend inside a Lakeland home. He had been held and evaluated under the Baker Act, too.

    "David Smith slipped through the system," Judd said.

    Judd said unless someone commits a crime, law enforcement cannot force that person to continue to get help.

    And not all cases make the news. 9 Investigates searched through hundreds of court records and found dozens of cases in Orange County alone where people who had been Baker Acted went on to be charged with serious and violent crimes, including domestic violence, aggravated animal abuse and even sexual battery on a child.

    Judd said many people don't get the help they need because those who spot the warning signs stay quiet.

    "We could have re-Baker Acted him (David Smith)," Judd said. "We could have provided more information to the mental health experts."

    Jones and Smith both ended up killing themselves after police attempted to take them into custody. But Sujatha Guduru, who investigators said shot and killed her own daughter in Oviedo, was not successful in her suicide attempt.

    And although she was deemed by the court to be incompetent to stand trial for now, she will use her prior Baker Act as part of her defense in the crime, first-degree murder.

    Her attorney said he intends to use an insanity defense.

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