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Killer doctor sentenced to life for murder of sexually assaulting father could finally be free two years after being pardoned for rare illness

A former North Carolina doctor convicted of murdering his sexually abusive father could finally be released from prison two years after being granted a pardon for a rare disease.

Vince Gilmer, 61, received a conditional pardon in January 2022, while his The medical mystery gained attention after being documented on a popular radio show and in a book.

But because of the strict conditions attached to the pardon and what his supporters describe as delay or indifference on the part of government officials and health facilities, he remained behind bars in a southwest country. Virginia prison as his health deteriorated.

Gilmer suffers from Huntington’s disease, a rare, devastating and incurable disease that attacks the brain and affects patients’ cognition and physical abilities.

His diagnosis – revealed after his conviction by the doctor who took over his practice and who, curiously, shares his last name – was the basis of the pardon, which was granted after many years of advocacy.

Vince Gilmer, 61, was granted a conditional pardon in January 2022, while his medical mystery gained attention after being documented on a popular radio show and in a book.

Vince Gilmer, 61, was granted a conditional pardon in January 2022, while his medical mystery gained attention after being documented on a popular radio show and in a book.

Vince Gilmer admitted to killing his father, whom he had accused at trial of committing horrific acts of sexual abuse against him when he was a child, and was sentenced to life in prison.

Although no one claims Gilmer is innocent, his supporters say the outcome of his 2005 trial, in which he insisted on representing himself and jurors rejected his insanity defense, would likely have would have been different if he had been correctly diagnosed at the time.

They argued that leniency, in the form of admission to a treatment center, was the most appropriate solution.

With the help of a North Carolina legislator, Gilmer’s successor in medical practice and now attorney and legal guardian, Dr. Benjamin Gilmer, found a hospital willing to accept Vince Gilmer as a long-term patient, in accordance with conditions of grace.

He received confirmation from Virginia officials that Vince Gilmer would be released Thursday, he said in an interview.

“It’s such a beautiful moment. But at the same time, we’re all stressed and anxious because, you know, you never know what might happen between… the prison door,” Benjamin Gilmer said.

The Virginia Department of Corrections did not directly answer the question of when Gilmer would be released, but confirmed in a written statement that it was working on the “logistics” to establish a release date “as soon as possible.”

Benjamin Gilmer, who has given a series of interviews to discuss the case, recently visited the Marion Correctional Treatment Center where Vince Gilmer is in custody, to share the news. The two men are not related.

Gilmer admitted to killing his father, whom he had accused at trial of committing horrific acts of sexual abuse against him when he was a child, and was sentenced to life in prison.

Gilmer admitted to killing his father, whom he had accused at trial of committing horrific acts of sexual abuse against him when he was a child, and was sentenced to life in prison.

The Marion Correctional Treatment Center in Virginia where Gilmer currently lives

The Marion Correctional Treatment Center in Virginia where Gilmer currently lives

“He had a moment of joy and expressed it as best he could. But it was a little disappointing in a way because it’s in really bad shape,” Benjamin Gilmer said.

Vince Gilmer is in the “end stages” of his illness, confined to a wheelchair and nearly bedridden, struggling to eat, losing cognitive abilities and at high risk of aspiration pneumonia, Benjamin Gilmer said.

The hospital setting will provide more robust treatment and allow Vince Gilmer to “experience some life and dignity,” including more regular visits from his mother, said Benjamin Gilmer, who arranged safe transportation for the transfer.

“I pray I can get there and hold him again,” said Gloria Hitt, Vince Gilmer’s 80-year-old mother.

Benjamin Gilmer wrote in his book “The Other Dr. Gilmer” that he became fascinated with Vince Gilmer’s case after joining the family medicine clinic located just outside Asheville, where Vince Gilmer worked.

Patients and former colleagues described Vince Gilmer as a beloved member of the community and a dedicated clinician who made house calls, remembered birthdays and cared for patients regardless of their ability to pay.

Benjamin Gilmer eventually wrote to Vince Gilmer and began attempting to reconcile his reputation with the horrific crime for which he had been convicted.

His quest was documented by journalist Sarah Koenig, later host of the wildly popular podcast “Serial,” in an episode of “This American Life” titled “Dr. Gilmer and Mr. Hyde.”

The grave of Gilmer's father, Dalton, whom he murdered

The grave of Gilmer’s father, Dalton, whom he murdered

Dr. Benjamin Gilmer, longtime advocate for Virginia inmate Vince Gilmer (no relation) who is expected to be released from prison later this week.

Dr. Benjamin Gilmer, longtime advocate for Virginia inmate Vince Gilmer (no relation) who is expected to be released from prison later this week.

Vince Gilmer’s father, Dalton Gilmer, was found dead in southwest Virginia, near the North Carolina border, in 2004, shortly after Vince Gilmer rescued him from a psychiatric hospital.

He had been strangled and his fingers cut off. Vince Gilmer claimed at trial that his father made sexual advances toward him and he snapped at a time when he was also hearing voices, the Richmond Times-Dispatch previously reported, citing trial transcripts.

The two prosecutors involved in the lawsuit could not be reached for comment. The judge who presided over it said through a spokeswoman for the firm where he currently works that he could not comment on past cases.

Benjamin Gilmer’s research ultimately led to a diagnosis of Huntington’s confirmed by laboratory work. He began connecting with lawyers and other advocates who would strategize to free Vince Gilmer from prison by pursuing a clemency petition.

Former Gov. Terry McAuliffe, a Democrat, rejected the request. Then Gov. Ralph Northam, his Democratic successor, did the same.

But Northam, a doctor, reconsidered his decision and issued a conditional pardon on one of his last days in office.

The conditions stipulated that Vince Gilmer must be accepted into a medical or psychiatric facility, remain on probation and parole as directed by the Virginia Parole Board, and provide his own “secure” transportation.

Efforts were initiated to find a placement for Vince Gilmer. Benjamin Gilmer wrote that he unsuccessfully petitioned all public mental health hospitals in Virginia, as well as appropriate public mental health facilities in North Carolina, “but they demanded that Vince be first to a Virginia hospital for interstate transfer.”

“Vince was stuck in a strange no-man’s land,” he wrote.

Gilmer was required to be accepted into a medical or psychiatric facility, remain on probation and parole under Virginia Parole Board guidelines, and provide his own “secure” transportation.

Gilmer was required to be accepted into a medical or psychiatric facility, remain on probation and parole under Virginia Parole Board guidelines, and provide his own “secure” transportation.

Benjamin Gilmer's research ultimately led to a diagnosis of Huntington's confirmed by laboratory work.  He began connecting with lawyers and other advocates who would strategize to free Vince Gilmer from prison by pursuing a clemency petition.

Benjamin Gilmer’s research ultimately led to a diagnosis of Huntington’s confirmed by laboratory work. He began connecting with lawyers and other advocates who would strategize to free Vince Gilmer from prison by pursuing a clemency petition.

“No one cares that a man is dying in their prison,” Benjamin Gilmer said in an interview before receiving confirmation of a release date, adding that many private facilities were also reluctant to welcoming a convicted murderer.

Efforts by North Carolina State Senator Julie Mayfield led to a breakthrough. Mayfield said in an interview that she found a hospital in western North Carolina that, in mid-2023, agreed to take Vince Gilmer.

If all goes as planned, a hospitality brigade and a film crew working on a documentary on the story of Vince Gilmer plan to meet him Thursday in Marion, with a special meal in hand: a Coke, some Twinkies and a Whopper.

Benjamin Gilmer said his advocacy for Vince Gilmer, now spanning a decade, convinced him that the United States incarcerates far too many mentally ill people in a manner “incompatible with ethics, humanity or the Hippocratic Oath.

“We have had no confidence in Virginia’s prison system over the years,” he said. “We’re not going to celebrate until Thursday.”

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