Joshua Webb waives jury trial, sentenced to asylum
Joshua Lee Webb, 37, waived a jury trial and agreed to a "stipulated facts trial" at a short hearing on June 26, where he was sentenced to life plus 25 years in state psychiatric custody.
Prosecutor Matt Semritc read the facts for the record, outlining the events that occurred on Mother's Day, May 14, 2017. That day, Webb killed his mother, Tina Webb, carried her head into the Estacada Thriftway and stabbed Michael Wagner, an employee at the store.
Semritc revealed it was Webb's sister, Sarah Morris-White, who discovered the body of their mother, deceased and decapitated at her Colton, Oregon home. Semritc said Webb used the same knife to stab Wagner that he used to kill his mother.
Prior to those crimes, Semritc noted, Webb first killed his dog, Cooper, at the home by choking and stabbing him repeatedly.
After the attack on Wagner, Webb was subdued by employees at the store and was taken into custody. He appeared to be in a catatonic state, Semritc said. He spent time in the hospital and then was taken into custody by detectives of Clackamas County Sheriff's Office where he told police he committed the crimes.
"He fully admitted to stabbing and killing Tina Webb," Semritc said. "He fully admitted to killing his dog, Cooper. He fully admitted to removing the head of his mother, Ms. Webb, decapitating her. And he fully admitted to stabbing and attacking Mr. Wagner with the intent to kill him."
Webb, who throughout the trial sat or stood mostly with his head down and quietly answered the judge with one-word answers, agreed the facts were correct as outlined by Semritc.
Judge Robert Herndon found Webb guilty except for insanity and placed Webb under the jurisdiction of the Psychiatric Security Review Board for care, custody and treatment for life on count 1 of murder, 10 years for abuse of a corpse, 20 years for assault and attempted murder, and five years for animal abuse. He was committed to Oregon State Hospital.
The PSRB will conduct a review of the case at least every two years to determine if Webb is fit for release.
Herndon further ordered that the victims, whom he listed, be notified of any PSRB hearing, conditional release, discharge or escape of the defendant.
The prosecutors later told the Pioneer they "got everything [they] could," regarding the ruling.
Webb's Mental Illness
Discussions in court exposed the details of Webb's mental illness. After the arrest, two doctors evaluated Webb: Dr. Norvin Cooley on behalf of the defense and Dr. Alexander Duncan as an independent review at the request of the state. Both concluded that at the time of the crimes, Webb was suffering from a mental disorder.
Cooley diagnosed Webb with schizophreniform disorder and Duncan diagnosed Webb with unspecified schizophrenia spectrum and other psychotic disorder.
"Without being confined to the state hospital, his continuing mental illness would maintain a substantial danger to others." -Judge Robert Herndon
The psychiatric evaluations revealed that Webb continues to hear voices and responds to those voices. He also suffers from hallucinations and delusions. These symptoms persist despite being on antipsychotic medication for 12 months.
"Without being confined to the state hospital, his continuing mental illness would maintain a substantial danger to others," Herndon said, "and therefore he's not proper subject for conditional release at this time."
It's apparent Webb had been suffering from mental illness in months prior to his crimes.
A couple of months before the violence, Tina Webb made a comment that something wasn't right with her son and that he was acting strangely, the prosecuting attorneys told the Pioneer. He thought his girlfriend was trying to kill him by poison, they added.
Herndon, too, revealed in court that Webb showed warning signs prior to the events.
"Looking back, everyone's got the benefit of hindsight at this point and can see that Mr. Webb was acting very strangely for a couple of months before this incident happened, likely was crying out because he recognized that the voices that were talking to him were leading him into trouble," Herndon said. "He'd been to police agencies and surrendered his guns because he thought he was a danger. He'd broken up all of the knives that he owned. He had reported himself as being a killer to two police agencies, making up crimes, hoping that he would be arrested."
This "profound mental illness," as Herndon called it, led to the finding of insanity.
But victims of the crimes expressed concern that the sentence was not harsh enough.
Michael Wagner's daughter, Stephanie McDonald, read a statement on behalf of the Wagner family, with her mother and sisters at her side and Wagner's arms around the women.
The letter reminded the court of the "personal nightmare" the family suffered. They received a phone call about the stabbing and raced from Estacada to the hospital in Portland where they got only bits and pieces about their father's condition. It was "traumatizing" and "beyond painful," she told the court. She further expressed the family's feelings of paranoia and a broken sense of security.
"We understand that mental illness is a very serious issue and should be dealt with appropriately," McDonald said. "However, under these circumstances and due to the nature of these horrific crimes, we feel that the consequences of Mr. Webb's actions may not be adequately addressed. His actions have created lifelong emotional wounds for our family as well as his own."
"He must pay for his sin." -Sarah Morris-White
Then, Lead Prosecuting Attorney John Wentworth read a statement from Morris-White.
"I feel that the consequences of my mother's death are much too weak," the statement read. "I feel that Josh Webb is almost getting away with the crime. Tina Webb deserved better, and it is unjust and immoral to let a murderer go free in just a few years. It is wrong and dangerous to release him back into the society.
"Josh Webb is my brother, and I believe this sentence must have prison time behind it or my mother's death will forever be without true justice. He must pay for his sin."
Wentworth acknowledged that the victims may be feeling a "lack of certainty."
"When we send violent offenders to prison, there's certainty for the victims' families," Wentworth said. "They know what the sentence is going to be…What I've learned through this process is there is comfort in that certainty. What is challenging in this case, as you've heard from both the statements of both the families who have said this independently, is the lack of certainty. Mr. Webb will be treated as a patient at the Oregon State Hospital."
He added, "Every two years at the most, when Mr. Webb's case comes up for review, that wound that these families have suffered will continue to be reopened."
Herndon too, expressed understanding of the victims' concerns.
"I know from a victim's standpoint, this doesn't feel very good when somebody's not going off to prison," Herndon said.
He added, "Losing someone in this horrific fashion, I'm sure, is extremely difficult, and I understand that."
In response, Webb's attorney, Maryann Meaney, seized the opportunity to speak on behalf of Webb.
"Mr. Webb does not take this lightly. He does not believe that he's getting a pass by being sentenced to the PSRB and the state hospital," Meaney said. "He's quite remorseful about all this…He understands that going to the state hospital is not a picnic. He's going to be subject to therapy, to intense review, to medication, medication changes and so forth."