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Red flags missed

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When Clayborne Conley invited a friend from his Alcoholics Anonymous group to his apartment, the friend was shocked when Conley pulled a concealed handgun from under his shirt.

Conley, 43, who had a history of violence and mental instability, was on conditional release from the Hawaii State Hospital at the time and was not allowed to have a firearm.

The friend didn’t know that, and he and another friend said they didn’t even know that Conley had just spent 10 months at the Kaneohe hospital for the mentally ill and that he had a history of violence.

They learned such details only after the former Iraq war veteran in August fatally gunned down his ex-girlfriend, Kristine Cass, her 13-year-old daughter and a neighbor’s dog before taking his own life. Part of Conley’s troubled past emerged in news coverage immediately following the double-murder suicide.

A review of court documents and interviews with his friends provided a more complete picture of a man who had volatile relationships with women, frequently lied about his past, disdained treatment for his mental health problems and exhibited clear indications of emotional distress in the months before the shooting.

As a conditional-release client, Conley was monitored by a treatment team that included a probation officer, social worker and case manager overseeing his mental health care.

At Feb. 1 and May 3 court hearings, the team reported that Conley was abiding by the conditions of his release, including getting anger management, substance abuse and mental health treatment, according to Kimberly Iopa, the deputy prosecutor assigned to the case.

"By what we saw, he was on the right track," Iopa said.

But several of his friends questioned whether the treatment team was monitoring Conley close enough to be able to spot the red flags they were seeing.

They said Conley, an intelligent, humorous, personable guy, was able to hide some of his struggles, yet his behavior started becoming noticeably more troubled earlier this year.

The friend from the AA group said that when he was invited to Conley’s apartment to help with his AA program, Conley pulled out the handgun and cocked it, but then put it away.

The friend, who asked not to be identified because of AA confidentiality rules, questioned Conley about the firearm. Conley replied that he always had to be armed while on the streets due to his military job, the friend said.

Yet Conley, who frequently wore combat fatigues, had been discharged from the Hawaii National Guard more than three years earlier.

Conley, who was divorced, had stormy relationships with women. A fight he had in 2006 with a previous ex-girlfriend in some ways foreshadowed what happened in August.

Conley threatened to kill the woman, harm her dog or cat and commit suicide, according to court documents. After he tried suffocating and choking her, the woman was granted a 40-year protective order prohibiting Conley from contacting her, the documents show.

In her application for the restraining order, the woman said Conley had serious psychological problems. "He has been trained to kill and torture and has told me he has done so in war," she wrote. "He owns weapons, he knows where I live, he has talked about killing me and others many times."

Conley eventually was convicted of violating the restraining order, terroristic threatening, assault and criminal property damage, the documents show.

In the weeks before the shootings, when Conley started calling Cass at all hours and showing up at her house or workplace uninvited, her friends encouraged her to seek a restraining order — something she told them she was considering, the friends said.

Just before Conley’s release from the hospital in November 2009, experts who examined him told the court that Conley showed no active symptoms of a psychiatric disorder, though he still was emotionally volatile. One said that if Conley stayed away from illicit drugs and alcohol, his danger to himself and others would be low and manageable in a standard conditional release program.

Department of Health officials who oversee treatment for the conditional-release population said they couldn’t comment on Conley’s case because of confidentiality regulations.

But Dr. William Sheehan, acting chief of the department’s adult mental health division, provided some general comments.

"Sometimes you can do everything or almost everything right and still have a bad outcome," Sheehan said. "And I think at the end of the day, there’s an individual choice that each consumer in our system gets to make. And no matter how much service we provide to them, how much court oversight, how much case management, how much hospital time they have, this individual has to decide to accept what’s being offered to them. And that’s one variable we can’t control ultimately."

In many of his sessions with treatment specialists, Conley expressed a disdain for treatment, sometimes refusing to acknowledge he was sick, according to court documents.

A few months before he was released, he was quoted by a hospital social worker as saying, "I don’t think I need treatment. I’m perfectly fine, but I will go to treatment if the judge orders me to go."

 

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