Austin mother hopes her family's tragedy may help others who are suffering from mental illness
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Two months ago Lex Ervin, 22, went on trial for the murder of his father. After hours of deliberating a Travis County jury found him not guilty by reason of insanity.
"We never knew what Lex would do. We didn't think he'd hurt anyone," said Leslie Ervin. "He wanted to be like everyone else. He thought he was completely normal," she added.
Life with Lex could be isolating at times for the Ervins. As a mother of four, Leslie knew something wasn't exactly right. There was no official diagnosis because Lex wouldn't talk. Leslie and her husband Scott brought doctors to the house but Lex would stare out the windows and wouldn't cooperate. She and Scott even turned to school resources, a nature program and called police. As time passed Lex became more distant and even paranoid.
"We were really caught in this catch 22. We just didn't know what to do," said Ervin. She had no way of knowing life would change drastically. Lex's father, his biggest advocate, became his target. Weeks before Scott was murdered he feared his son wanted to hurt him and shared this with his wife.
"If there is an altercation I hope I prevail but if I don't I know my son will get help and you guys will be safe and that's what happened," explained Ervin.
On September 18, 2013 Lex went into Scott's home office convinced his Dad was an imposter. Lex believed he worked for the CIA and was sent on a mission. His younger brother witnessed the crime and his testimony proved to be key during his brother's week long murder trial.
"Normally you have a victim's family that wants justice and vengeance on a defendant for taking away their loved one. In this case you have a mom who is the wife of a deceased and she's just lost her husband and even with what her son did she has a fear she's going to lose him too," said Mindy Montford, a defense attorney who represents Lex.
During the trial Lex walked to the witness stand with notes determined to testify. Lex told the jury that he stabbed his father several times. He tried to claim self defense. His family was prepared for him to go to prison.
"That's the verdict we were expecting," said Leslie Ervin.
"When we got the verdict it was one of those moments you'll never forget," said Montford. Montford and Ervin hugged each other and cried overwhelmed with emotion.
"It was a miracle. It was unbelievable. The debt of gratitude we all owe that jury it was a courageous verdict," said Ervin. Also a difficult one to reach in part because Montford had to show that Lex did not know the difference between right and wrong the moment he killed he Dad. The last time a Travis County jury handed down a not guilty by reason of insanity verdict.
"When the verdict came back I think the person who was most upset was Lex Ervin. He'd rather be in prison than labeled mentally ill," said Montford.
"I would love to tell you the Ervin story is unique but it's not," said Karen Ranus, the executive director for the Austin chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness. Ranus takes calls from families in need. NAMI is a non-profit and offers classes and support groups for families. Following the trial she reached out to Ervin who is now connected with the services the group offers.
"She knows it's powerful to tell the story and easy for people to make a lot of assumptions," said Ranus.
"I hope that someone like me who feels they are alone and scared and has no where to turn realizes there are resources in the community available," said Ervin.
While Lex is receiving treatment the court will check in every six months to a year. Doctors at the maximum security state hospital in North Texas diagnosed Lex with paranoid Scizophrenia and autism.
"It's going to be a long time if ever before a judge releases him back into the community," said Montford.
"It's kind of like the new normal while we miss Scott every day there is a sense of peace since we've had this verdict and know Lex is somewhere getting help," said Ervin.
Her late husband and Lex's father should be celebrating his 60th birthday this week.
"It's an illness. It's not my son who did this. It's his disease that did this," said Ervin who hopes that by sharing her story the conversation about mental illness gets louder.
Thursday is Mental Health Awareness day at the capitol where a rally is planned.
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