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Prosecutors want man accused of setting woman on fire committed
By Charles Keeshan | Daily Herald Staff

Lawrence Hucksteadt

 

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Published: 7/16/2009 12:41 PM

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McHenry County prosecutors will initiate civil court proceedings to have a man accused of killing a woman by setting her on fire committed indefinitely to a state mental health facility.

The move comes after a judge last month ruled that murder suspect Lawrence Hucksteadt remained mentally unfit for a criminal trial nearly five years after his arrest, and is unlikely to become fit in the foreseeable future.

Hucksteadt, 45, of Woodstock, has been facing charges of first-degree murder, aggravated arson and heinous battery stemming from a July 16, 2004, incident at a behavioral health facility in his hometown.

Authorities said Hucksteadt, after arguing that day with facility receptionist Ellen Polivka, returned to the building with a can of gasoline, poured it on the 69-year-old woman and set her on fire. Polivka, of Woodstock, died from her injuries about a month later.

If committed through the civil court, the criminal charges against Hucksteadt will be dismissed, and he will remain in a secure facility in the Illinois Department of Human Services until doctors there believe he could be discharged.

If that ever happens, McHenry County State's Attorney Louis Bianchi said today, he expects the criminal charges to be reinstated and Hucksteadt to face trial for murder.

"He did such a terrible act, our office doesn't believe he should ever be returned to society," Bianchi said. "If he is mentally ill, then he is right where he should be."

The civil commitment process was one of three options available to Bianchi's office after Judge Joseph Condon sided with psychiatrists who believe Hucksteadt suffers from substance induced dementia that compromises his memory and makes it impossible to assist in his own defense.

Bianchi could have sought a trial-like proceeding aimed at keeping the criminal charges in place while giving doctors up to three more years to make Hucksteadt fit for trial. However, his office in a news release, said doing so would risk Hucksteadt being found not guilty by reason of insanity, increasing his chances of an eventual release.

Assistant McHenry County State's Attorney Michael Combs said Polivka's family was disappointed with the ruling declaring Hucksteadt unfit, but agrees with the decision to proceed with a civil commitment.