Freebold competent to stand trial on first-degree murder charges
February 2 – BEULAH – A man accused of killing three members of his family during a 2020 shooting at his home in the Frankfurt area has a warrant to stand trial, state psychiatric examiners reported.
Robert Michael Freebold, 60, is facing three counts of first-degree murder on November 20, 2020, deaths of his son Robert James Freebold, Jr., 27; his ex-wife Marilyn Schultz Freebold, 63; and their son Malachi Andrew Maloney, 20.
Benzie County Sheriff’s Deputies previously transported Freebold from the county jail to the Saline Forensic Psychiatry Center, where he was questioned by assessors.
Her full report, which is confidential at least for now, was presented to 19th Circuit Court Judge David Thompson before a hearing on Freebold’s jurisdiction on Tuesday, court filings show.
The evaluation was sparked when Freebold’s attorney, Anthony Cicchelli, filed a motion telling the court he planned to pursue an insanity defense, Benzie County Prosecutor Sara Swanson said.
Cicchelli did not respond to a request for comment and previously said he does not speak to reporters.
Swanson said Tuesday she had not submitted a response to Cicchelli’s application.
That’s because the center has yet to conduct the second part of Freebold’s assessment — a criminal liability check — which Swanson said should be completed sometime in March.
Any response from Swanson’s office to the defendant’s planned insanity defense would come at that time, she said.
“Anything we would file if we filed anything would be a rebuttal,” Swanson said.
Competency and criminal responsibility are two different things in the eyes of the criminal courts under Michigan’s Criminal Code.
One determination is to determine whether a defendant is capable of standing trial, the other focuses on the specific crime or crimes the defendant is charged with and whether that defendant understood correctly and incorrectly at the time.
The center conducts trials on about 3,000 defendants annually, according to its website.
“Competence relates to the now,” Swanson said. “It determines, at any given point in time, whether he can help with his own defense.”
Swanson filed open murder charges against Freebold in 2020 after autopsies showed the victims sustained multiple gunshot wounds, some at close range, which a Benzie County coroner and a Western Michigan University pathologist called homicide.
Two gun cabinets, two handguns, 14 spent cartridge cases, bullet fragments, pieces of lead and a bear’s claw shoe with blood on the sole from more than one victim were recovered from a home on Grand Street, court records show.
Freebold was scheduled to appear in court on January 17 after Benzie County District Court Judge John Mead ruled June 3 that Swanson had produced enough evidence during a lengthy preliminary investigation to transfer the case to the district court.
Swanson then changed the charge to first-degree first-degree murder, court documents show.
Police officers and medical personnel arrived at the Freebold residence in response to a quick 911 call made from home around 6:00 p.m. on Nov. 20, 2020, according to the dispatcher, but shortly after someone uttered a nearly unintelligible cry for help , has been separated.
Arriving officers from Frankfort and the Benzie County Sheriff’s Office found a chaotic and bloody crime scene, as described by witnesses who reported their observations during a previous court hearing.
“It would have been almost impossible to walk through the scene without stepping on something,” said Lt. Troy Lamerson, a former detective with the Benzie County Sheriff’s Office. “There was blood all over the house.”
The defendant was found lying halfway out the front door of the home, bleeding from a gunshot wound that emergency responders said they believed at the time, but that rescuers at Munson Medical Center later determined was the result of blunt force trauma.
Inside the home, up to seven barking dogs were locked in a back bedroom, and Robert James Freebold Jr. and his mother were dead, both with multiple gunshot wounds to the head.
Responders determined that Malachi Maloney had a weak pulse, but before emergency workers could treat him, law enforcement first had to secure a handgun found partially under his body and covered in blood.
Maloney later died from a gunshot wound, records show.
Freebold was arrested days after the shooting and soon after he was hospitalized for the head wound. Swanson said he was denied bail and has been in the Benzie County Jail for more than two years.
Court filings show changes in Freebold’s defense strategy since his indictment.
For example, Freebold was represented during the preliminary investigation by attorneys James Amberg and Jesse Williams, who appeared to focus on reasonable doubt by questioning witnesses about the possibility of a murder suicide and whether the crime scene had been properly preserved by investigators.
Freebold later sought a court-appointed attorney and his case was assigned to Chief Assistant Public Defender Cicchelli of the Benzie-Manistee Regional Public Defender’s Office.
Cicchelli had previously argued in court that prosecutors had not presented a motive for the shooting and prosecutors assumed Freebold was the killer simply because he was the sole survivor.
But then in December Freebold asked the court to appoint another attorney for him after telling Judge Thomson that Cicchelli’s previous representation of two of the victims – Freebold’s ex-wife and his son – in unrelated matters was a conflict. He also said that he and Cicchelli had different ideas about the trial strategy.
Cicchelli argued the Senior Freebold was not involved in any of these issues and they dated back nearly a decade; Judge Thompson then denied Freebold’s request for a new attorney, court filings show.
Thompson said this week the trial would be set for the first two weeks of April after the Center for Forensic Psychiatry completed its criminal accountability report and submitted it to the court.