A 48-year-old man with a long history of mental illness was sentenced Monday to more than 12½ years in federal prison — as he had requested — for robbing a Eugene bank hours after his release from state prison in January.
Adam Parrish Ashe asked U.S. District Judge Ann Aiken to “do us all a favor” by imposing the sentence, saying he needed the structure of prison and “maybe I’d get some help there.”
Aiken said society “should be absolutely appalled” that prison has become the only option for the mentally ill.
“Shame on us,” she said. “I hope for the sake of other people that what you’ve said today will be heard.”
Defense attorney Bryan Lessley said he recommended reluctantly that Aiken impose the sentence because of his client’s concerns “for his own security and safety.”
Assistant U.S. Attorney Jeffrey Sweet sought the same penalty “not out of a desire to punish Mr. Ashe, but out of a desire to protect the public.”
Both the government and Lessley had expected Ashe to be committed to the custody of the Oregon Psychiatric Security Review Board in connection with an arson fire that led to his state prison sentence, Sweet said Monday.
Both federal and state prosecutors had jurisdiction in that May 26, 2009, incident because it was a U.S. Post Office in Roseburg where Ashe broke a window, entered and started a fire in a wastebasket with a propane torch.
A police officer removed the burning can before the fire could damage the building, but Ashe reportedly started the fire because he was angry with the federal government.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office dismissed the federal case, however, after Lessley filed notice that he intended to pursue a “guilty but for insanity defense” to the state court arson charge. Had an Oregon State Hospital psychiatric evaluation shown that Ashe was incapacitated by mental illness, he could have been committed to the authority of the Psychiatric Security Review Board for 20 years.
Persons under the board’s jurisdiction can be housed in the state hospital or a variety of residential treatment settings.
But Ashe’s evaluation determined that he was “malingering” — feigning symptoms — and he was instead sentenced in September 2011 to 23 months in state prison, with credit for time served in jail since his arrest. That led to his release from prison just four months later.
State corrections officials put him on a bus with instructions to report to a Roseburg parole office, Aiken said Monday.
Instead, Ashe got off the bus in Eugene, walked to Home Federal Bank at 899 Pearl St. and gave a teller a note demanding money, falsely stating that he had a gun. Ashe left behind his prison identification card when he walked out with the cash. He was arrested minutes later, telling police he wanted to go back to prison. All the money was recovered.
Lessley and Sweet both told Aiken they believed Ashe to be genuinely mentally ill. If he was feigning symptoms, the defense attorney said, he’d been doing it since at least age 18.
Aiken then read aloud portions of a confidential history submitted by Lessley. She noted that Ashe had 10 separate psychiatric hospitalizations in South Carolina between 1982 and 1990. The first came when Ashe was 18.
His mother reported that her son’s hallucinations included “20-foot snakes” and that he was sniffing Liquid Paper. A Minnesota Social Security disability board in 1994 declared Ashe disabled by severe major depression and alcohol-related dementia, noting that he suffered auditory hallucinations and had made multiple suicide attempts.
After he came to Oregon, a police officer once found Ashe “sitting in fire” he’d ignited.
Ashe told Aiken he robbed the bank because he saw no other options.
“The only way that I can see getting any help is to escalate in my criminal behavior simply to get some more time in prison with time for my own reflections,” he told Aiken, later adding that he’s afraid of going to prison but “even more terrified of what I’m becoming in society.”
Aiken criticized the Oregon prison system for failing to provide structure for Ashe upon his release.
“It’s not good public safety to just lock you up and have no place when you come out,” she said.
Aiken recommended that he serve his sentence at the U.S. Medical Center for Federal Prisoners in Missouri or in a mental health program at Oregon’s Sheridan Federal Correctional Institution. She also pledged that the federal court would provide better re-entry services when Ashe completes his new sentence.