Father: convicted Aspen stalker plagued by mental issues
A district judge sentenced an Aspen man to four years of supervised probation following his admission that he placed poetry and chocolates on the front porch of a neighbor, despite the defendant’s father asking that his guilty plea be withdrawn.
Eric Nilan’s sentence came after he pleaded guilty to felony stalking April 6 in Pitkin County District Court. The conviction will be removed from his record if he stays out of criminal trouble during the term of his probation.
His father, a criminal defense attorney in New Mexico, told the judge that his son is battling schizophrenia, his crime wasn’t violent, he poses minimal risk to society and he is highly intelligent with academic accolades.
The father said he has held back participating in the case but felt that the sentencing hearing was the appropriate venue for him to weigh in on the matter.
“If you can imagine a trained guard dog on a leash being told to stay, that’s how I felt,” John Nilan told Judge Gail Nichols.
Nilan said his son has written poetry to both him and his wife. That’s the way he communicates, though his poetry’s meaning isn’t easily interpretable, the father said.
“Eric is no Robert Frost, but he communicates in poetry,” John Nilan said. “And he’s no Shakespeare, so he doesn’t communicate in sonnets, but he attempts to communicate his thoughts in rhyme and beat.”
Aspen police arrested the younger Nilan in August after he left two poems at the front of a couple’s home. Police told him to stop, but he later left a box of candy at the home, leading to his arrest.
A subsequent court-ordered evaluation on Nilan, performed by the Colorado Office of Behavioral Health, deemed him incompetent to stand trial or proceed with the case. He then went on medication and was restored to competency.
John Nilan said his son’s condition had grown progressively worse prior to last year’s arrest. He recalled a time when his son called the police because he believed someone was following him.
“I think there’s substantial evidence in the record that Eric isn’t competent to accept the plea,” John Nilan said, noting this was the first time his son, who doesn’t use drugs and rarely drinks alcohol, has “been in any situation like this.”
John Nilan asked the court not to take punitive measures at sentencing, but prosecutor Andrea Bryan said the deferred judgment was indicative of that. She also said the stalking charge against Nilan “requires the mental state of knowingly” committing the crime “and the impact on the victims as well.”
“The discovery in the case indicates that the defendant was perfectly aware of what he was doing,” she said. “He was told repeatedly by law enforcement officers not to go back to the home. … We also have a statement by the defendant that indicates he knew what he was doing, but he doesn’t know what the big deal is.”
The couple Eric Nilan allegedly harassed attended his April plea hearing, and the husband in the couple said they were concerned about their safety.
“They were complete strangers to the defendant and had no idea who he was, and here he is showing up between 12 and 3 in the morning, and they have a small child in their home,” Bryan said. “These victims don’t know the defendant and they have no idea of what he’s capable of.”
Nichols also ordered Nilan to stay at least 100 yards away from the couple’s property.
“There’s no doubt you’re brilliant, Mr. Nilan, and that’s kind of something we’ve all forgotten,” Nichols told the defendant. “Whether you’re on meds or not, you could probably do something very productive. I’m sure the psychiatrist would say you’d do better with the meds, and you’d say you’d do better without them.”
The judge called the plea agreement a “good one.”
Public defender Sarah Steele said, “He’s been prescribed medication that has resulted in his stability, and I think that’s the first step in a positive direction, … and I hope that now Mr. Nilan can move on in this case.”
The father said it took him a while to come to terms with his son’s psychological plight.
“My oldest son said he’s like the fellow in ‘A Beautiful Mind,’ and there’s something wrong,” John Nilan said.
He added that Eric Nilan has oral and visual hallucinations, “and they are the basis of a diagnosis of schizophrenia. … I think the truth of the matter is he had a pre-existing condition, was never diagnosed, was never treated.”
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