INDIANA, Pa. (KDKA) — An Indiana County woman is calling for change to Pennsylvania’s mental health laws.
Billie Jo Varner’s life changed forever when she was shot by her boyfriend, and on Thursday he walked free because of a loophole in the legal system.
“Your worst nightmare can’t even begin to come close to the pain that I’ve went through,” said Varner.
Varner is lucky to be alive. In January 2012, she spent five days in a coma after her then-boyfriend shot her at close range with a shotgun.
That man, 43-year-old John Reome, spent the last two years in jail. But today, he left the Indiana County Courthouse in handcuffs for the final time.
A judge found Reome not guilty by reason of insanity.
“I will suffer forever for this, today he walks free,” said Varner.
Reome is walking free because psychiatrists for both the defense and prosecution agree that he is not a danger to himself or others if he continues to take the psychotic medications he was taking in prison.
Medications he was not taking at the time of the shooting.
“This man should be going to mental hospital, he should not be going and walking out of the jail doors today,” said Indiana County District Attorney Patrick Dougherty. “Unfortunately, the laws of Pennsylvania provide that that’s exactly what happens.”
Varner says Reome struggled with mental illness over the course of their 11-year relationship, refusing to leave the house and even pulling his own teeth with pliers instead of going to the dentist.
She tried to have him committed to a mental health facility when he pulled her hair and threatened to kill her just two days before the shooting. But doctors told her there wasn’t enough proof that Reome was homicidal since he hadn’t pulled a gun.
“It’s important to note that, yes, the result was justice was done, but it’s nothing to celebrate,” said Dave Shrager, the defense attorney. “This is a terrible tragedy.”
Reome was released to his parents. They are taking him back to Florida, where they live, so he can get mental health treatment under their watch.