By JONATHAN ROMEO
A Franklin man charged with the April fatal stabbing of his father was ruled insane Tuesday morning and ordered committed indefinitely to a mental hospital.
Senior Circuit Judge Tim Easter took fewer than 30 minutes to determine that Daniel Cantrell, 31, met the insanity criteria during a bench trial. A bench trial means a jury is not involved.
“It’s an extremely sad case,” District Attorney General Kim Helper said after the trial.
“What happened today was a very abbreviated bench trial by Judge Easter. The parties on both sides basically stipulated and agreed to the facts of the case, and it was a determination by Judge Easter that Mr. Cantrell was not guilty by reason of insanity.”
Cantrell sat quietly in court, handcuffed and dressed in a Williamson County jail orange jumpsuit. He wore dark-rimmed eyeglasses and his hair was longer than when his mug shot was taken April 2.
Cantrell waived his right to testify, but in the rare moments he answered questions, was reserved and responded with a simple “Yes,” or “No.” He will be hospitalized at the Middle Tennessee Mental Health Institution in Nashville.
Helper said mental health professionals will provide her office and Cantrell’s defense attorney, David Raybin of Nashville, with semi-annual updates of whether continuous treatment is necessary.
“At some point – and it’s really up to the health professionals – if they determine that he has completed all his treatment and there’s no need for him to be committed to Middle Tennessee Mental Health Institute, they will come back to the court with a recommendation as to what the next step is,” Helper said.
Cantrell had been held in the Williamson County Criminal Justice Center on a $1 million bond since he admitted stabbing his father, Oliver Cantrell, 65, twice in the heart at the elder Cantrell’s Brentwood home on April 2.
Two days after his arrest and while he was incarcerated, Cantrell severely injured himself when he tried to commit suicide by jumping off a jail bunk head first, according to agreed testimony from both sides during the trial. Cantrell was treated at Vanderbilt University Medical Center and returned to jail, then transferred to MTMHI on April 8.
Prosecutor Jessica Borne questioned forensics psychiatrist Dr. Rokeya Farooque on Cantrell’s mental condition at the time of the slaying. Dr. Farooque evaluated Cantrell for a month last spring and was the only witness called to the stand Tuesday morning.
“Because of serious mental illness he was not able to understand the nature and/or wrongfulness of the act,” Farooque told Easter. “Mr. Cantrell was at that time subject from schizophrenia paranoia and he was grossly psychotic at the time of the crime.
“He was delusional. He was thinking he was a robot. He was thinking his father was a robot. And he was thinking his father was trying to harm him. He couldn’t distinguish right from wrong, he was so consumed with his paranoid, delusional thinking. He felt like his life was in danger if he didn’t do something at that time.”
Other stipulated facts showed on April 2, Cantrell and his architect father spent the day together working on a Brentwood residence a few blocks away where Oliver Cantrell and his wife planned to live in retirement.
Farooque said Cantrell became delusional and thought his father’s construction crew was going to torture him with the saws and hammers they were working with on the house and that his father was behind it.
“Every room we went into [in the house under construction] looked like a torture room,” Cantrell told his brother, Ryan, in a phone call just before the slaying. “I thought dad hired the workers to kill me. Every room had some kind of torture device in it.”
Oliver took his son back to his Brentwood home in Heathrow Hills where Oliver tried to defend himself when Daniel became more agitated and grew violent.
“We are not sure exactly what occurred at that point,” Raybin said of exactly what occurred at the home.
At some point between 6:45 p.m. and 6:50 p.m., Daniel Cantrell’s wife, Kristen, arrived at her father-in-law’s home to find him lying on the floor after having been stabbed with a kitchen knife.
She called E-911 for help and told emergency dispatchers that her husband was experiencing a “nervous breakdown.”
Brentwood police soon arrested Cantrell and he later told a detective he “jabbed” his dad twice with a knife, went outside and smoked a cigarette, then came back inside and dragged his father’s body away from the home’s front window.
Farooque said she reviewed more than six years of Cantrell’s mental health records and subsequently prescribed medication different from what Cantrell had been taking at the time his father died.
Stipulated facts were that Cantrell was first hospitalized at a Vanderbilt Medical Center psychiatric ward in April 2007 after his parents found him catatonic at their residence.
Over the next few years, he had multiple psychotic episodes, spent time recovering at his family’s home and took various prescribed drugs.
“Unfortunately this is the kind of psychological problem that has crisis and remission,” Raybin said. “Certainly this was something they [the family] did everything they could, medically, to prepare for this. [Daniel] followed all the instructions that the doctors gave him. But this is a horrible family tragedy brought upon by mental illness.”
Raybin said Cantrell loved his father “more than anyone else in the world” and that he is remorseful – as evidenced by his attempted suicide – and is slowly coming to terms with his actions.
“Schizophrenia is a very serious mental condition and there’s long, different facets of treatment,” Farooque said.
She said Cantrell will receive medicines for schizophrenia as well as the associated side effects such as mood swings and depression. He will also attend group and individual therapy.
“This is obviously a sad case,” Easter said after his ruling. “To the family, specifically Ms. Cantrell, we’re sorry for your loss … losses.”
As he was led out by deputies, Cantrell waved goodbye to his family and friends who had filled the first three rows of the courtroom.
Cantrell’s family will eventually be able to visit him at his mental health facility, but not immediately, Raybin said. That decision will have to be made by his doctors, who will determine the level of treatment and whether visits would be helpful to his mental state.
Staff writer Jonathan Romeo covers the city of Brentwood. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.