Nearly six months after he was arrested and jailed for a six-year-old crime, Frank Curtis is back in Billings, trying to pick up the pieces of his life and go on.
Last week in Ravalli County District Court, following months of complicated plea bargain negotiations, Curtis entered an “Alford plea” of guilty to the murders of his father and brother, and to assaults on three other people. In an Alford plea, the defendant does not admit guilt, but rather admits the state has enough evidence that a jury would probably find that person guilty of the crime. He will return for sentencing on March 25. If District Judge Jeffrey Langton accepts the plea agreement, Curtis will be on supervised probation for the next 100 years, but will not spend any additional time in prison.
Curtis committed the double murders in August 1993. Two of the assaults occurred the same day as the murders and the final assault was on a jailer a few days later. He was never tried for those crimes because he was determined to be suffering from schizophrenia and was sent to the state hospital.
There he made a slow recovery and after five years was declared functional in society again. For the year preceding his 1999 arrest, Curtis lived in Billings at a group home run by the state hospital. He worked and completed his first semester of college. The hospital was just days away from granting him an unconditional release when the charges were reinstated and he was arrested and returned to the Ravalli County jail.
The main issue argued over by County Attorney George Corn and Public Defender Larry Mansch was Curtis’ mental state at the time of the murders. Corn believed Curtis was capable of understanding what he did when the murders and assaults took place. Mansch did not.
Under the terms of the plea agreement, Curtis stipulated the state could prove beyond a reasonable doubt that he did not suffer from mental disease or defect at the time of the crimes and the state stipulated that his mental capacity was “significantly impaired” at the time of the crimes, but not enough to constitute an insanity defense.
But, the conviction moved Curtis from the supervision of the Department of Health and Human Services, which had decided he no longer needed any supervision to function in society, to the supervision of the Department of Corrections, which will monitor his behavior and ensure he remains on medication for the rest of his life.
As long as he does so, the 28-year-old Curtis will remain free to continue the life that mental illness and murder interrupted almost seven years ago.