Special Report: A Killer Diagnosis
Updated: Friday, August 2 2013, 10:23 PM EDT
In June of 2004, the body of 60-year-old Dalton Gilmer was found mutilated along a road in Southern Virginia. His son, former doctor Vince Gilmer of Fairview, reported him missing 12 hours later. When Vince learned his father’s body had been found, he told News 13 he was “devastated.” In reality, Vince strangled his father, cut off his fingers to hide his identity and dumped his body along the road in Virginia.
Vince Gilmer ran after being questioned by authorities, but was arrested a few days later. When he made his first court appearance, he told the judge his “brain wasn’t working right.” Psychologists deemed him competent to stand trial. Vince fired his attorneys and poorly represented himself. He said he was suffering from deprivation of serotonin, his father sexually abused him and that voices in his head made him kill his father. Everyone thought he was faking. A jury quickly convicted him of first degree murder. He was sentenced to life in prison.
In 2008, another doctor with the same last name but no relation, Benjamin Gilmer, took over the practice that Vince had built in the Cane Creek community. Benjamin said, "I began to hear stories from his patients, and they were all good stories. Everything pointed to a guy who didn't seem sadistic or sociopathic." He couldn’t understand why Vince would snap and kill his father.
This past December, Dr. Benjamin Gilmer wrote Vince a letter in prison. He quickly responded, but Benjamin said, "the letter was completely illegible. It looked like a three-year old." Benjamin now wondered why Vince would still be faking so many years later.
In January, Benjamin went to see Vince in prison. He said, "he looked like what you see in ‘One Flew Over the Coo-coo’s Nest.’ He looked like kind of a crazy guy. It was hard to talk because he couldn't articulate himself very fluidly." Benjamin still had doubts and took his friend and psychiatrist, Dr. Stephen Buie, back to the prison with him. They agreed “there is no way he could be faking these symptoms, impossible, absolutely impossible," Benjamin said. Then Dr. Buie asked if it could be Huntington’s Disease, a neurological disease that is a combination of Parkinson’s Disease, Alzheimer’s and Lou Gehrig’s. A genetic test confirmed Vince has it.
The two doctors believe he was showing symptoms a year before killing his father in 2004. Benjamin says Huntington’s didn’t make Vince kill his father, but “he already had underlying psychiatric illness, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder from his childhood." The two doctors think Vince was not guilty of murder by reason of insanity and do not believe he should be in prison.
Vince is getting treatment now and after a recent visit, Benjamin said there was a "radical transformation, unbelievable. He walked in the room, bright eyed, shoulders back. Strolled across the floor." Now, Benjamin wants to get Vince out of the prison system. Possibly into a mental hospital or nursing home. He says Vince’s disease will deteriorate quickly now. Lawyers are contacting Benjamin to do pro-bono work and one says he can go to the Governor. Benjamin said, “compassionate release for medical reasons is something that the Governor of Virginia can do and that's probably what we are going to urge him to do."
By Holly Headrick
This American Life - Dr. Gilmer and Mr. Hyde
Huntington's Disease Society of America