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Clearwater hospital sued over releasing man later accused of murder

CLEARWATER — Controversy has dogged the case of Craig Wall, the man charged with murdering his baby son, and then stabbing the boy's mother to death.

The Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney's Office has admitted it erred in the way it handled a court hearing in which Wall's bail was set at $1,000. Less than two days after he was released from the Pinellas County Jail in February, his ex-girlfriend, Laura Taft, was dead.

Now a lawsuit has been filed in the case, but it's not against the court system that allowed him to be released from jail.

It's against Morton Plant Hospital, which had released Wall from its psychiatric care before he ever got to jail. The lawsuit says the hospital should have known better than to release Wall, because he was a prime suspect in the death of his son, and he had threatened to kill Taft if she ever left him.

"They had reason to believe that he was a danger," attorney Barry Cohen said.

Cohen said even though the hospital knew Wall had threatened Taft, the staff did not let her know when they released him in February.

"Don't you at least notify the woman that you let him out of the hospital?" Cohen said.

"If she had known that maybe she would not have stayed home in that apartment."

A Morton Plant spokeswoman said the hospital had not yet reviewed the lawsuit, and could not comment on it. John Bredeson, who is Taft's father and the personal representative for her estate, referred questions to Cohen.

The lawsuit was filed Thursday in Pinellas County by Taft's estate and on behalf of Taft's older son (who is not biologically related to Wall).

The suit says that on Feb. 6, Wall was admitted into the hospital under the Baker Act, which allows people to be detained for up to 72 hours if they are deemed a threat to themselves or others. They can be held longer in some circumstances, such as when a hospital files a petition to do so in court. It is not clear if Morton Plant took that step.

Wall went into the hospital because he had threatened suicide, bought a bottle of sleeping pills, and was acting irrationally. Police were aware of this because they had just been interviewing him as a suspect in the death of his and Taft's infant son, Craig Wall Jr.

While Wall was being held in the hospital, Taft went to court and got a domestic violence injunction against him. She described how she tried to leave him with the two children, "telling me if I leave he would kill me. I fear for my life and my sons."

A copy of the injunction order was delivered to Wall in the hospital, letting him know he could not come near her.

The lawsuit says Morton Plant should not have released Wall when its staff knew he "had made specific threats against Laura Taft and was a prime suspect in the killing of Laura's child."

Under the circumstances, "it was reasonably foreseeable that, if released from Baker Act custody without restriction, notice or warning, Craig Alan Wall would seek to carry out his threats and cause injury or death" to Taft, her older son, or both. He was released from the hospital on Feb. 9. Five days later he was arrested, charged with violating the injunction after he showed up at the memorial for his 5-week-old son. The next day he was released on bail and two days after that, Taft was stabbed to death.

After the hearing in which Wall's bail was set at $1,000, Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney Bernie McCabe said one of his assistants should have pointed out that Wall was a suspect in the baby's death, among other problems. However, the misdemeanor crime he was charged with often carries a low bail.

Wall is now being held without bail in the Pinellas County Jail, charged with two first-degree murders.

Curtis Krueger can be reached at (727) 893-8232 or ckrueger@sptimes.com.

Clearwater hospital sued over releasing man later accused of murder 04/08/10 [Last modified: Thursday, April 8, 2010 10:56pm]
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