The night before May 18, 2020, Jason Miller’s wife did not know she would have to explain to their two young daughters they would never see their father again.
This sentiment was shared by McHenry County Assistant State’s Attorney Randi Freese at the closing of the five-day bench trial of William P. Bishop, 44, heard before McHenry County Judge Michael Coppedge.
Prosecutors accused Bishop of intentionally and criminally driving over the center line of a rural road near Hebron on May 18, 2020, and crashing into an oncoming work van, killing Miller, 41, of McHenry, and seriously injuring Miller’s passenger and co-worker, Rory Fiali, 58, also of McHenry.
However, Bishop’s defense attorneys said he is not criminally culpable for his actions because he has a long history of mental illness and was suffering a severe psychotic break at the time.
Prosecutors agreed that Bishop is mentally ill and did not dispute that he was experiencing paranoia and hallucinations and was suicidal.
However, instead of going for help, in his suicidal state that had been lingering for days, he smoked marijuana, got in his car and drove to McHenry County, they said.
He then “made the choice – he had a plan to take his own life by ramming that gas pedal down,” driving more than 80 mph “then, the worst part, jerking that steering wheel to hit the van,” Freese told Coppedge. “That’s what turns this into a murder.”
In addition to killing Miller, the crash left Fiali with numerous life-altering injuries, including broken bones in his face and body and brain injuries. He remains in the care of a rehabilitation facility, prosecutors said.
Fiali had “no idea” as he was packing up his work equipment that afternoon in Harvard, where he and Miller had just finished up a job, that “in a matter of minutes his life would be over as he knew it,” Freese said.
She said Fiali is living “a life sentence” due to Bishop’s “selfish” and “intentional” actions that day.
The lives of two families as they knew it were “completely and utterly destroyed,” by Bishop, Freese said.
Prosecutors said Bishop’s actions that day were triggered by consuming marijuana. Two hours after the crash, a toxicologist testified he had 10.8 nanograms of THC in his system, twice the legal limit.
Freese and Assistant State’s Attorney Ashley Romito said Bishop was well aware of what he was doing when he crashed into the van and knew he did something wrong immediately after the crash.
In the moments afterward, Bishop made statements to those who stopped to help, showing he was aware of what he did, Freese said. Later in the hospital during a police interview, he said nine times that he wanted to kill himself and was attempting suicide, proving he was aware of his actions at the time, she said.
“The insanity defense is out the window,” Freese said in asking Coppedge to find Bishop guilty of killing Miller. “This is murder. We have proven it. He used that [Jeep] as a deadly weapon.”
During the trial, doctors who treated Bishop and three experts all agreed that Bishop suffers from Type 1 bipolar disorder, depression and substance-use disorder related to marijuana. He also was diagnosed as having narcissistic personality disorder.
He had mental health episodes in 2013 and 2017. In 2013, he reported that he wanted to kill himself and was admitted for mental health treatment and prescribed medication. He stopped using it after a few months, doctors testified.
In 2020, before the crash, he told his psychologist that he was experiencing mental health issues and was told to go to a hospital, but he did not.
He also had been told he should not drink alcohol or use marijuana or any other drugs because it could worsen his mental health. However, he did drink alcohol and used marijuana daily, doctors who testified said, noting that he had a “severe” marijuana-use disorder.
In his closing arguments, Bishop’s attorney Robert Deters said Bishop suffers from severe mental illness, was in the throes of a psychotic break and “could not comprehend the criminality of his actions.”
Days before, Bishop was hearing voices, was paranoid and thought people were going to kill him, Deters said. While watching TV that week, he thought he was being sent messages. As he drove out to McHenry County, he thought he was getting messages from street signs; and then while listening to an interview with Howard Stern and David Spade, he thought he was hearing messages, being taunted and told to kill himself and to hit the oncoming van, Deters said.
“The voices told him if he is going to do anything, do it now,” Deters said. “He truly believed this and acted on it.”
Deters acknowledged Bishop had THC in his system the day of the crash and had been drinking beer in the days leading up to the crash but referred to doctors at trial who said that was not the cause of his psychosis that day.
Calling it “tragic,” he asked that Coppedge find Bishop not guilty by reason of insanity.
Coppedge will return his verdict Nov. 7.