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Mental health cuts have some slipping by the scales of justice

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COLUMBIA, IL (KTVI) - He walked free for years after allegedly choking a young boy in a Target restroom. Now, 45 year-old Robert Fricke is charged with kidnapping another boy, this time in his neighborhood. In this FOX Files investigation, Rebecca Roberts looks into whether Fricke will ever answer for these crimes and how he seemed to slip through the cracks.

Robert Fricke used to mow the grass and play basketball with his niece, outside his Columbia, Illinois home. But now, it’s empty. Neighbor Lucille Smith says Fricke lived here alone after his mother passed away last December.

“I couldn’t say anything bad about him when he lived here, I really couldn’t. But he should not have lived here alone,” she says.

On September 6th, Columbia police say Fricke snatched his 10 year-old neighbor, who was playing outside, brought him to his basement and bit the boy's ear. The boy’s father ran to Fricke’s house, and got his son.

“Mr. Fricke is an individual who lived in this community for a while, and was not someone we were familiar with,” says Columbia Police Chief Joe Edwards.

Only after the kidnapping did police learn that Fricke is charged with choking a 7 year-old boy in a Target bathroom. He faces misdemeanor battery for the 2009 attack in Fairview Heights. Edwards explains, “A misdemeanor crime at a store in Fairview Heights isn’t really at the level where that agency would be calling our agency.”

That case was continued more than 20 times, based on doubts about Fricke's mental fitness. St. Clair County State’s Attorney Brendan Kelly says one misdemeanor charge wasn't enough to institutionalize him. Fricke had a clean record until then, so he slipped through the cracks.

Kelly explains, “Sometimes, when you’ve run out of all the options, there’s nothing else left to do but try to monitor it as long as you can, and ultimately some of those cases do get dismissed.”

Kelly says cases like Fricke’s are a growing problem, as Illinois cuts funding for mental health programs. The state’s attorney’s desk is now piled high with mental health cases. “The jail is not designed to be a mental health facility, but you see, with all the services being cut for people with mental illnesses, they are falling into the judicial system,” he explains.

Edwards adds, “Had he gotten the assistance he needed, that would have probably prevented this.”

Currently, Fricke faces felony battery, aggravated kidnapping and unlawful restraint charges. The felonies got the ball quickly rolling.

Monroe County court documents show on September 25th, Fricke was found mentally unfit to stand trial, and ordered to undergo in-patient treatment. Then in October, there was correspondence from the Alton Mental Health Center.

When and if Fricke is fit for trial, he would return to jail and a court date would be set.

In Fricke’s neighborhood, the victim’s family tells me they’re relieved the man accused of attacking their son is in a mental health facility. And they’re glad it happened quickly, considering the case with the Target bathroom attack drags on.

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