GRAND LEDGE (WXYZ) — Inside a farmhouse in Grand Ledge, one man was murdered, another admitted to the crime and two families were left in ruins.
But the biggest tragedy, say the loved ones of the man responsible, is that it all should have been prevented.
“When you have a nightmare and you wake up, the nightmare goes away,” said Jeff Sadlak, whose son is now accused of murder. “Here, you wake up and you realize the nightmare is still there every day. You have on relief from it.”
His son, Joe Sadlak, grew up just outside Lansing. After a closed head injury in 2016, he was never quite the same, becoming more agitated, suffering from suicidal thoughts and recurring bouts of depression.
“After his head injury, he couldn’t work,” said his mother, Pamela Rowley.
Joe lost his job, his health insurance and his apartment. Not long after, he started abusing drugs, his family says, and spending time with bad influences.
When Joe Sadlak hit hard times, he started living with Clinton Decker. Nearly 20 years ago, Decker was convicted of a sex crime involving a child. At his home off the Grand Ledge Highway, neighbors say police were called there often.
Sadlak's family says that Joe got worse the more time he spent around Decker.
“In his darkest moods, he thought about not harming anyone else but harming himself,” said his father Jeff. “He didn’t like the road he was going down, and he couldn’t really find a path off of that road.”
In November, Joe was as bad as he’s ever been.
“He called desperate,” recalls his mother. “He was in a hospital parking lot on a bench, in the middle of winter with shorts and a t-shirt on.”
It was then that Joe's loved ones tried to find a psychiatric hospital with an open bed. Eventually, on December 1, Joe made his way to StoneCrest Behavioral Hospital in Detroit.
His family says he’d never been on medications before, but once he was admitted to StoneCrest, he was put on a whole host.
“One was an anti-psychotic, an antidepressant, an anti-anxiety and Ambien was a sleep medication,” Rowley recalled.
While they were hopeful StoneCrest could help stabilize Joe, his mom, dad and two sisters say they each called the hospital and warned staff to look out for Clinton Decker.
“In no circumstance should they allow Clinton to visit Joe or to come pick Joe up,” his father recalls warning staff by phone.
“I said there’s going to be a guy named Clinton. He’s going to come and either visit my son or try and take him,” Rowley said she told hospital staff. “He is a convicted sex offender, he’s dangerous, do not let my son go with him.”
So imagine the family’s surprise when they drove down to visit Joe in December, only to find out that after less than a week, he was out. Even worse, they say, was who picked him up.
“They said that Joe had just been released,” Jeff said. “He’d gone with Clinton.
The two would return to Decker’s home in Grand Ledge on Friday. Two days later, Joe’s family said the call they’d fought to avoid finally came.
Joe was in jail. The charge was homicide.
“I fell to my knees,” Rowley said. “How stupid can you be? You’re a psychiatric hospital. You put my son on four different kinds of medication. And knew his drug history. And you let him go. He obviously wasn’t in his right mind to make that decision himself.”
According to police, Joe was found on the side of the road, covered in blood. He admitted to stabbing Clinton Decker to death.
We don’t know the circumstances surrounding his discharge from StoneCrest; hospital officials didn’t respond to our questions. But when state psychiatrists evaluated him, they concluded Joe was mentally unfit to stand trial.
Mark Reinstein is President of the Mental Health Association in Michigan. Short hospital stays like Joe’s aren’t unusual, he says, and they are almost never enough.
“Most cases, you can’t satisfactorily begin the road to recovery in three days, five days, six days,” Reinstein said. “That’s most likely what happened here.”
Today, Joe Sedlak sits in the Eaton County jail, where he’s spent the last six months. He’s waiting for one of the state’s few psychiatric beds to open up while psychiatrists attempt to return him to competency.
“The system--every turn--failed him. Failed us,” Rowley said. “No one listened.”
Contact 7 Investigator Ross Jones at email@example.com or at (248) 827-9466.