Believing his cellmate was the devil, John Darrell Setchel grabbed 72-year-old Ronald Sailers off of the top bunk in the Hall County Jail and slammed his head into the ground until he died, prosecutors said Friday morning.
Setchel, 24, of Dawsonville, pleaded guilty but mentally ill Friday to malice murder for Sailers’ death on Oct. 5. A judge gave him a life sentence at the plea hearing at the Hall County Courthouse.
“He did refer to the victim as ‘devil’ or ‘the devil,’ and he had some belief that the devil would hurt him at some point,” said Assistant District Attorney Kelley Robertson. “Alternatively, he also said he wasn’t afraid of the devil and that he was angry at the roommate for using too much toilet paper — things of that nature.”
Robertson and Setchel’s attorney Lynn Akeley-Alderman presented evidence regarding Setchel’s auditory and visual hallucinations, including that he believed Sailers had grown horns through his jumpsuit, according to court documents.
Setchel has a history of schizophrenia with some psychosis, according to court documents.
He underwent multiple mental evaluations and was later determined to be ultimately competent to stand trial and criminally responsible, Robertson said.
Lisa Korbar, Setchel’s mother, testified that her son was not on his medication when the assault occurred.
“He believes he is Jesus,” she said. “He believes Mr. Sailers was the devil.”
Korbar and the Dawsonville man’s family worked for the past several years to get Setchel the psychiatric help he needed.
“He’s been sweet. I never have seen him be angry, even when he wasn’t on medication and he was at his worst,” his older sister, Heather Setchel, said during the hearing.
According to evidence presented by Robertson, Setchel allegedly stomped Sailers while he was in a face-down position.
“Mr. Setchel likely straddled Mr. Sailers’ body at some point during the assault and picked up his head and beat it into the concrete floor, to the point that Mr. (Sailers’) ear was almost completely severed from his body,” Robertson said.
Sailers suffered other fractures and lacerations and died from blunt force trauma to the head, according to the autopsy.
In an interview with Georgia Bureau of Investigation agents, Setchel referred to Sailers as the devil and claimed to be acting in self-defense, Robertson said.
Robertson and the district attorney’s office argued for life without the chance of parole.
Noting the tragic nature of the case, Superior Court Judge Kathlene Gosselin said she believed that in the future Setchel would be able to accept his mental illness and live in society.
“I’m willing to let that little door open for the parole board to decide,” Gosselin said.
Gosselin added that if she were to believe that Setchel could not become a more mature person later in life, she “would have to give up (her) faith in people completely.”
“I’m not willing to believe that he will never mature beyond the age of 24,” she said.