A Bellingham man who fatally shot his neighbor in June has been found not guilty because he's mentally insane and was committed to Western State Hospital, likely for the rest of his life.
Timothy J. Turnberg, 28, was found to be suffering from a major mental illness when he shot Bradley Bilsborough, 49, outside their apartments in a complex in the 1800 block of East Sunset Drive early June 19.
Lake Whatcom Residential and Treatment Center, which helps adults with persistent and severe mental illness, owns and operates the complex.
Turnberg was charged in Whatcom County Superior Court with second-degree murder, but Judge Ira Uhrig acquitted him Monday, Nov. 8, and then ordered him committed.
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While in Whatcom County Jail awaiting trial, Turnberg was evaluated by a psychologist and a psychiatrist, said his attorney, Jon Komorowski, director of the county Public Defender's Office.
Both concluded that Turnberg was suffering from a "severe, chronic mental disorder of a psychotic nature," Komorowski said.
As a result, he was "unable to perceive the nature and quality of his acts, or ... unable to tell right from wrong with reference to his acts, which caused the death of Bradley Bilsborough," according to court records.
Komorowski said County Prosecutor Dave McEachran hired an independent expert to review Turnberg's evaluations, and that expert agreed with the evaluations' conclusions.
That made Turnberg's commitment an agreed resolution of his case, Komorowski said.
The court order committing Turnberg states that he will be in the custody of Western State for the rest of his life, but Komorowski said he could be released. That would require another court order, and the judge would receive input from the hospital, experts, prosecutor and defense counsel on whether Turnberg posed a danger to society, Komorowski said.
"If that is proposed at some point by the hospital, it then has to come back before the court," he said.
Komorowski said the case deeply impacted the families of Turnberg and Bilsborough.
"Both the victim in this case and Mr. Turnberg had long histories of mental illness," Komorowski said. "It certainly was a difficult outcome for the victim's family and was difficult for Mr. Turnberg's family as well."
According to charging documents filed in Superior Court:
Turnberg shot Bilsborough nine times with a .40-caliber handgun. Police officers found Bilsborough's body in a chair outside his apartment, which was next to Turnberg's, at about 2:20 a.m. June 19. Turnberg fled through the complex's parking lot, but a police dog found him hiding in a bushy area north of the complex.
Turnberg bought the weapon at Kesselring Gun Shop, near Burlington, on June 1, 2009, according to Bellingham police records.
Tenants in the complex are prohibited from owning firearms, and the agency inspects tenants' rooms for weapons and other contraband every three months.
The gun wasn't found during any of the inspections of Turnberg's room, according to facilities director Jenny Billings.
Before Turnberg bought the gun, law enforcement performed a background check on him but found nothing that would prevent him from buying it, according to Bellingham police.
Although Turnberg has a long history of mental illness, he would only be barred from buying a gun if he had been involuntarily committed to a mental health facility. The background check found no record of that happening, so sale of the gun was allowed, according to Bellingham police.