Convicted killer Stanley to stay in mental health facility

3 killed in 1985 shooting at Onalaska church

LA CROSSE, Wis. — The man convicted in a triple homicide at an Onalaska church in 1985 has been ordered to stay in a state mental health facility.

Bryan Stanley will remain at the Mendota Mental Health Institute (MMHI) in Madison after having his conditional release revoked on Wednesday.

The 56-year-old was placed at the site earlier this year, after his state treatment team became concerned over comments Stanley allegedly made about having violent thoughts. He was at MMHI until 2009, when an appeals court ruled he was no longer a threat to the public or himself. Stanley had been living in La Crosse since then.

However, La Crosse County Circuit Judge Ramona Gonzalez ruled Stanley violated the conditions of his release by failing to report his violent thoughts to his treatment team in a timely manner.

Staff from MMHI testified on Wednesday that Stanley told them he had been having violent thoughts for about 18 months, even though he did not report them to his case manager and probation officer until March of this year.

One staff member says Stanley verbalized violent thoughts specifically about a women who had swindled him for several thousand dollars in the 1990’s and his sister-in-law. Several witnesses testified Stanley told them he admitted to having violent thoughts about 10 times each day.


Stanley’s attorney, Tom Hayes, unsuccessfully argued his client should not have his conditional release revoked since he had no intention of acting on those violent thoughts. Hayes even said Stanley feels guilty about having such thoughts.

Stanley was convicted of opening fire at St. Patrick’s Church in Onalaska in 1985 after a service. Ferd Roth, a lay minister, Bill Hammes, a custodian, and Rev. John Rossiter were killed in the shooting.

Roth’s son, Ferd Roth Jr., and Hammes’ daughters, Rose Hammes, attended Wednesday’s hearing. Both are happy with the ruling, but say Stanley never should have been released in the first place.

“I have said many times that I forgive him because I know that he’s mentally ill and that he wasn’t truly himself when this happened,” said Hammes.

“But I have always also said that doesn’t mean I trust him,” she added.

“He wants to be out and free like everybody else,” said Roth Jr.

“But in my opinion when you murder three people, whether it’s premeditated or it’s a psychiatric problem, you should be kept in a place where you need to be kept,” he added.

Stanley’s doctors say he suffers from schizophrenia. At the time of the shooting, he claimed he was a prophet named Elijah who had been sent to cleanse the church.

He will remain at MMHI indefinitely but, with approval from his doctors, Stanley can petition for his re-release every six months.