How to you balance punishment with public safety? Retribution with rehabilitation? Justice with the needs of the community?
For Ravalli District Court Judge Jeffrey Langton, the decision was the “most difficult” he’s faced since taking the bench five years ago. But the sentence he crafted for 28-year-old Franklin Curtis was the “best possible” given the unique circumstances of the young killer’s case.
No one knows what forces were at play on Aug. 16, 1993, but in the course of a single afternoon and evening, then 21-year-old Frank Curtis assaulted two men with a pistol and, a few hours later, shot and killed his half-brother and father, convinced they were possessed by demons.
Curtis was arrested the following day and has been in custody for the past six-and-a-half years—in jail, in the state mental hospital, in a Billings group home and back in jail again. His case set legal precedent when the Montana Supreme Court ruled he could not be involuntarily medicated to make him well enough to stand trial for the murders. He was diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic and, after criminal charges were dropped, he received years of medication and treatment. When the state hospital determined he was well and could function freely in society, the charges were reinstated and he was arrested and jail the second time last August.
But, over the years a new person was emerging from the ashes of the anguished young man. In the decision, Langton noted that many of Curtis’ repeated drug and alcohol problems might be traceable to attempts to self-medicate a mental condition that was taking over his life.
Langton sentenced Curtis to 100 years in prison for the two murders and then suspended the sentence with credit for time served, placing Curtis on lifetime probation. Curtis may not return to Ravalli County, where the surviving assault victims live, unless ordered to appear before the court. He must remain on his anti-psychotic medication and cannot drink or take any drugs that are not prescribed for him.
In his ruling, Langton noted that Curtis probably would have been found not guilty of the murders “by reason of mental disease or defect” and would have been freed without any supervision.
“This may not provide all the punishment some people would have wanted, but it satisfies the need for supervision and public safety,” Langton said. Given Curtis’ behavior in a group home for almost a year, Langton believes he has a high chance of rehabilitation and that weighed heavily in his decision.
Following the order, Curtis visited briefly with his family and then, following the exile order, returned to Billings where he has a full-time job and plans to continue his college career.