Justice Released from Prison in 1985 Murders, But Gets Civil Confinement

By Melinda Miller, Sep 16, 2015, Buffalo News

When John D. Justice landed back behind bars eight years ago after failing at parole, he asked that he be allowed to serve his complete sentence for killing his parents, brother and neighbor, believing he later could walk out of prison free from any restrictions.


He got his wish, at least partially. Justice was released from a state prison earlier this month after serving nearly 30 years to the day when he committed one of the most notorious crimes in recent local history – killing his family in their Kenmore home and then killing another man in what he described as a suicide attempt.


But Justice, now 47, didn’t walk out the gates of the Great Meadow Correctional Facility in Washington County on his own on Sept. 4.


“John Justice was released from the custody of the Department of Corrections and committed to the custody of the Office of Mental Health,” Erie County District Attorney Frank A. Sedita III said Wednesday – the anniversary of the killings.


State Supreme Court Justice Stan Pritzker in Washington County granted the state’s request in late August that Justice be declared mentally unfit for release, Sedita said. The result is that Justice would now be committed to a secure psychiatric facility.


Because the judge ordered that the court proceedings be sealed, Sedita said he was not able to say exactly what the judge’s ruling was or where Justice is now being held.


One likely possibility is that Justice was declared dangerously mentally ill, which allows for a person’s involuntary commitment to a mental health facility. New York has several secure mental health centers for individuals who, according to the law, “have demonstrated violent or homicidal behavior that could put other people at a reasonable fear of being harmed.”


The Department of Corrections notified the Kenmore Police Department that Justice was being released from prison but didn’t indicate where he went.


“Normally, when we get these things … they usually give us some kind of address or idea where they’ll be living,” Chief Peter Breitnauer said Wednesday. “This had nothing on it.”


Breitnauer checked with the state Division of Parole and was told that Justice still was incarcerated on a civil commitment, without saying where.


Justice could have been taken to the Mid-Hudson or the Kirby forensic psychiatric centers or the Rochester Regional Forensic Unit for ongoing treatment.


Justice was 17 years old and an honor student at Kenmore West High School when he fatally stabbed his parents, John W. and Mary Justice, both 37, and his brother, Mark, 13, at their home on Mang Avenue, and then rear-ended a car on Military Road driven by Wayne Haun, 22, at 80 mph, killing Haun.


He eventually was found not guilty by reason of insanity in the murders of his father and brother and, after an initial verdict was overturned, was found guilty of manslaughter in the deaths of his mother and Haun.


His former defense attorney John R. Nuchereno has said of Justice, “He functions with high intellect, which runs parallel to a devastating mental disease.”


Justice spent part of his time in prison formulating and filing dozens of lawsuits pertaining to the handling of his case. He was released in September 2005 but wound up back in prison two years later for violating the conditions of his parole, reportedly by threatening workers at the Buffalo halfway house where he lived.


Prior to being returned to state prison in 2007, Justice told The News that he would prefer to remain behind bars rather than live in a halfway house again.


In 2013, Nuchereno, who was no longer representing Justice, said that during the parole hearings in 2006, Justice voluntarily resubmitted himself to the jurisdiction of the Office of Mental Health, perhaps assuming it would help his case.


“I don’t think he realized he was resubmitting to possible lifelong jurisdiction,” Nuchereno said at the time.


People such as Justice who are under involuntary civil commitment face an open-ended term of confinement, with any future possibility of release dependent on the results of periodic evaluations of their mental health and stability.