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Sister says mental illness led to fire, death

By Jason A. Smith

jsmith@henryherald.com

The sister of a Stockbridge man suspected of killing his stepfather, said mental illness led to her brother's alleged actions. "He did not commit the crime," said Belinda Deyton, of McDonough. "His mental illness committed the crime."

Her brother, 45-year-old James Mickey Walden, is charged with murder and arson. Walden appeared in Henry County Magistrate Court Tuesday, before Judge Robert Godwin, who bound the charges over to a grand jury.

A statutory bond hearing for Walden is scheduled to take place in Superior Court today, according to court records.

The charges against Walden stem from a fire, March 17, at 2075 East Atlanta Road in Stockbridge. The suspect, according to Henry County Police, set fire to the home of his stepfather, 76-year-old William Jack Chambers, who died as a result of the incident.

The blaze destroyed the home, while Chambers was still inside, Henry County Police Capt. Jason Bolton said. Walden's mother, Barbara Walden-Chambers, 71, was also burned in the fire, and is recovering from her injuries, according to Deyton.

Deyton said in an interview with the Henry Daily Herald that her brother has suffered "for many years" from paranoid schizophrenia. The condition, she said, contributed to his setting the fire.

"My mother and I have consulted with Henry County and [the] State of Georgia multiple times, asking desperately for mental-health care for him, and we have been turned away multiple times," said Deyton. "What happened on March 17, was a result of his mental illness ... this is where it led to."

Walden's family, according to Deyton, has tried for the last 10 years, unsuccessfully, to get help for him, including during a prison term in a separate case. The suspect and his loved ones, according to Deyton, are victims of "a broken system."

Henry County Sheriff's Chief Deputy, David McCart, said, "Mickey [Walden] has always been a problem. We've had to get orders to pick him up in something regarding family problems."

He referred reporters to the state's offender web site, and it showed that Walden has an extensive arrest record dating back to 2004. He has been arrested eight times in Henry County. The most recent arrest was in August 2007, for violating probation. The original charge was aggravated stalking. He was paroled from the Turner Pre-release Center in Sycamore, Ga., on Feb. 9, 2009.

"He needs to be given the mental-health care that he has needed for all this time," said Deyton.

A spokesman with the Georgia Department of Corrections could not be reached Tuesday, regarding Deyton's comments.

Deyton's husband, Ken Deyton, described Walden as a "wonderful man," whose life is controlled by his mental illness. "He's a sharp man and a good friend, and he loves his [two] kids, and he's a very loving person," Ken Deyton said. "I think the shame is, the fact that he didn't get any help."

Defense attorneys, Scott Holt and Steven Lister, are representing James Walden on the murder and arson charges. Holt said the case is still "in the very beginning stages."

"We are preparing to thoroughly look at the issue of any mental illness that he is suffering from," said Holt. "We've got a lot of homework to do. We'll know a lot more in a month or two."