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Man committed for 1988 shooting spree to be released

A Winston-Salem man who says he thought he was killing demons when he shot and killed four people and wounded five others could be released from a state mental hospital within the next few weeks.

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RALEIGH, N.C. — A Superior Court judge has ordered the release of a Winston-Salem man who has spent 20 years in a state mental institution after being found not guilty by reason of insanity of killing four people and wounding five others.

Michael Hayes, 46, could be released from Dorothea Dix Hospital in Raleigh within the next few weeks, his longtime attorney, Karl Knudsen, said Tuesday.

During a two-day hearing last week, seven psychologists and psychiatrists testified that Hayes is not dangerous and no longer suffers from a personality disorder.

"He is completely cured. He is a much wiser, more mature, more stable person now than he was, even five or 10 years ago," Knudsen said. "For the last 20 years he hasn't been on any kind of psycho-active medication and has really shown any signs of mental illness for I would contend at least 15 years."

Hayes has said he thought he was killing demons in human bodies when he shot his victims at a rural crossroads in 1988. Doctors have said he suffered a psychotic break brought on by drug and alcohol abuse.

A case manager must first determine if Hayes can meet conditions that Judge Steve Balog set Friday.

Those conditions include submitting to random drug tests and searches and attending Alcoholics Anonymous meetings. He also cannot own any guns and cannot go to Forsyth County – where the shootings occurred – or out of the state.

Knudsen said Hayes plans to move to Wendell to live his girlfriend and their two children.

Hayes has been held at the state-run Dorothea Dix Hospital in Raleigh since he was found not guilty in 1989.

Over the years, he has been granted privileges that allow him to spend much of his time away from Dix. He works 40 to 60 hours a week as an assistant manager at a convenience store and has unsupervised visits for up to a week with his girlfriend and children.

"He's been out in the community, and really, for the last several years, mostly what he's been doing at the hospital is sleeping," Knudsen said.

Balog, who will review the case after a year to make sure he has met the conditions of his release, also ordered that Hayes must stay employed to remain free, and he must go to counseling for his relationship with his girlfriend.

Family members of Hayes' victims say they think he should remain in custody.

"He's never been punished for what he did," Linda Cantrell, who lost her 16-year-old daughter, Crystal, in the shooting spree, told the Winston-Salem Journal on Friday.


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