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Court Asked To Rule In Case Man In Mental Hospital For 27 Years

May 2, 1985 GMT

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) _ Utah’s Supreme Court has been asked to decide the fate of a man doctors say is sane although he spent 27 years in a mental hospital following a murder and rape.

The man’s lawyer seeks his freedom, but doctors say that although he is not insane, his release would become a ″social and individual disaster″ because he has become an ″institutional person″ due to his years in the hospital.

The case was turned over to the high court for a decision after District Court Judge David B. Dee ruled Tuesday that Utah law has no provision for resolving the dispute in the case of Bernt Murphy, 47.


The court is expected to decide next week whether Murphy should remain in the mental hospital or be released to a shelter where he has less supervision.

Murphy was 19 when he was arrested in 1957 for the rape of a 41/2 -year- old Salt Lake City girl.

After his arrest he confessed to the murder two years earlier of a 23-year- old woman. He led reporters and photographers to the grave where he said he buried Jocelyn Hickenlooper and told them how he killed her.

Murphy was found innocent by reason of insanity on the rape charge, and charges of first-degree murder in the Hickenlooper slaying were dismissed after he was ruled insane.

But a state psychologist says the insanity finding was part of a deal between prosecutors and the hospital.Dr. Robert Howell said Murphy is not insane, only slightly retarded.

Murphy’s attorney, Brooke C. Wells, said chances are he would have been freed by now if he had been sentenced to prison for the rape and murder.

″Twenty-eight years is too long a punishment,″ she said.

A year ago, Dee refused a motion from Ms. Wells to release Murphy into a less restrictive institution. That was before doctors revealed their finding that he is sane.

Prosecutor Creighton C. Horton II said the change in diagnosis probably means an arrangement outside the state hospital will have to be found for Murphy.