Aydelott Stays ‘Involuntarily Committed’
By Mollye Barrows
Circuit Judge J. Scott Duncan held a commitment hearing Wednesday, May 22, regarding the status of Brandon Aydelott, 23, and Chris Lynch, 40, two Santa Rosa County men who confessed to violently killing their mothers, to determine whether they should both remain “involuntarily committed” at Florida State Hospital.
“Because there has been no request to release Mr. Aydelott and Mr. Lynch into the public, and they continue to meet the criteria for involuntary commitment and no one is protesting that,” explained Duncan, “they remain involuntarily committed.”
Both men were found not guilty by reason of insanity for the homicides and were committed to the secure mental health treatment facility in Chattahoochee run by the Department of Children of Families. Every six months, the staff at Florida State Hospital evaluates their mental health status and makes a recommendation about their commitment to the court, the State Attorney’s Office and the residents’ attorneys.
Determining their commitment status was only part of the court’s discussion on their cases. The second issue was whether or not prosecutors had grounds to protest where the men would be held on the hospital grounds. Recently, hospital staff recommended moving both men to Civil Transition, a lower security program.
According to DCF’s website, Civil Transition is for residents who no longer need a higher level of security, and the program’s stated treatment plan is to give residents the skills and resources they need to successfully transition back into the community or to another less restrictive program, like a group home.
“According to the law, I have jurisdiction over their cases, but I don’t have the authority to dictate to the Department of Children and Families where they place somebody,” said Judge Duncan. “We would have the ability to hear both sides, then make a determination if the department decided they no longer needed to be involuntarily committed.”
No Stop Gap
The ruling comes as little relief to Brandon Aydelott’s aunts, Pam Hill and Patricia Hawkins, who were there for the hearing. Brandon brutally killed their sister and popular Holley-Navarre Middle School science teacher Sharon Hill Aydelott on Christmas Eve 2013. He confessed to investigators that voices told him to leave his father’s apartment where he lived and kill her, so he took a butcher knife to her house and attacked his mother, unprovoked, in the doorway of her Gulf Breeze home.
“There’s no stop gap or check and balance in this process,” said Hill. “Here they are both going to a unit designed to help them transition into the community, and the next step is either they’re getting out or they’re not.”
She explained, “If DCF recommends later that they get out, they’ve already had a chance to build a case for that because Brandon and Chris would have been through the Civil Transition program and trained to be on the outside. If that’s the only chance the State Attorney’s Office has to protest, it worries me.”
Aydelott was later diagnosed with schizophrenia and found not guilty by reason of insanity in October 2016. He has already moved through several levels of treatment at Florida State Hospital, and when DCF notified the State Attorney’s Office of their intention to move Brandon to Civil Transition in March, prosecutors missed the notice and their chance to protest the move before it happened.
The Department of Children and Families also recommended moving Chris Lynch to Civil Transition. He also was remanded to Florida State Hospital in April 2018, after a judge found him not guilty of second-degree murder by reason of insanity for beating his mother, Cheryl Lynch, to death on the porch of her Pace home on Mother’s Day 2016.
Prosecutors don’t want either man moved to the less restrictive unit, but the court said the law doesn’t give them the authority to have a say where they are kept unless DCF determines they no longer meet the criteria of involuntary commitment.
“I’ve thought about this and pondered this, and the state must follow the law,” said Duncan. “I believe the State Attorney’s Office and the Public Defender’s Office are supposed to get copies of these assessments. However, I’m not sure that is happening. Here’s what I’m going to do—when I get them, I’ll make sure we get copies out to counsel to make sure nothing gets lost in the cracks.”
This isn’t the first time Aydelott and Lynch have been locked up together behind bars. The two were placed in the same cell in the Santa Rosa County jail in 2016 while they awaited their trials and developed a relationship that worried Hill, who received letters from both of them at that time.
In the summer of 2016, Aydelott mostly wrote to his aunt about sports, what chapters he was reading in the Bible and to thank her for sending him care packages and putting money in his commissary account for extra food.
When he and his new cellmate both started writing to her in July 2016, she was astonished to realize her nephew’s “roommate” was Chris Lynch, a then 38-year-old Pace man who had been arrested three months earlier for beating his mother to death.
“Dear Aunt Pam,” Brandon wrote on a small, blue index-style card dated July 18, 2016. “Hope you’re having a good day! I sure am! Yeah, my roommate’s name is Chris if you haven’t read the other side yet. We both say gracias for the commissary.”
Lynch wrote on the back side of the card, “Aunt Pam, unfortunately, I’m in the same situation as Brandon! I unknowingly took my mom’s life on Mother’s Day. My name is Chris Lynch, and I’m the roommate.”
Lynch went on to thank her for helping Brandon with more commissary items, like coffee, which Lynch said Brandon had been sharing with him because he was “addicted” to it. Lynch also wrote about what else he and Brandon had in common, like the fact that they had both been baseball pitchers. He even drew a picture for Hill of himself and Brandon playing baseball by a fence with himself calling to Brandon, “Throw me the coffee.”
Hill was aghast the two “mommy killers” were in the same cell, and she worried about the influence Lynch would have her on her then 20-year-old nephew, who appeared to be infatuated with the older Army veteran.
“I accidentally spilt coffee on this paper when I was working out with Chris, whoops!” Brandon wrote to his aunt a month later. “Another thing that happened with me and Chris is that he claimed me, and I accepted to be his Godchild. I’ve definitely become more spiritual since I got locked up. That’s just one of the many spiritual things that came my way.”
For Hill, the development was just another “unbelievable” moment in a series of unbelievable events. She told Inweekly, “Brandon was always a naive boy, subject to other peoples’ suggestions, and he could be easily manipulated. It was happening before my eyes.”
She added, “When I went there, he was so depressed and dejected about his situation. Then when Chris came into his life, he was giddy like a school girl. Brandon didn’t even drink coffee until Chris came in there. And when he started asking for two of things, I knew that was it, and I complied so I would know what was going on until they could be moved apart, and Brandon would be safe from him.”
A prosecutor with the State Attorney’s Office responded to Hill’s plea and eventually managed to have Lynch and Aydelott separated. During this same period, the court found Aydelott was competent to stand trial.
When Lynch was eventually sent to Florida State Hospital last year, he and Aydelott were again in the same dorm for a time before Aydelott was moved to Civil Transition. Now that the state has conceded it has no jurisdiction where DCF places residents on the property, Lynch will again be housed with Aydelott in the same program.
Hill and Hawkins have both visited Aydelott at Florida State Hospital, and they remain concerned about the security.
“I feel helpless because we’re at the mercy of healthcare professionals, evaluators and general staff who I don’t even know their backgrounds, their credentials or expertise,” said Hill. “Brandon is learning their buzz words, but I don’t think he has ever really dealt with the emotional trauma of killing his own sweet mother. It drove home to me that victim’s rights and families’ rights are not considered in the process.”
The state prosecutor on the case assured the sisters the State Attorney’s Office would fight to keep Aydelott committed to state care if DCF should ever recommend that he no longer meets the criteria for involuntary commitment. State Attorney Bill Eddins wants them to remain where they will continue to get medical treatment and won’t be a threat to the community or themselves. However, the sisters remain concerned.
“I think if the general public knew Civil Transition was more like a junior college campus, with more freedom to be outside, they would not want them moved to Civil,” said Hawkins. “They have been given every right through the criminal justice system, and I feel like the court forgets about the heinousness of their crimes.”
She added, “We’re here because two ladies, two mothers, were murdered and something got lost in the paperwork. The family shouldn’t have to be the ones to tell them about it and make sure they don’t forget.”