IDAHO FALLS — A man appeared in court Wednesday to be sentenced for horrifically killing his roommate just weeks after seeking serious mental health treatment.
Douglass Taylor, 34, was sentenced by District Judge Bruce Pickett to spend 27 years to life in prison after he previously pleaded guilty to first-degree murder. The minimum sentence Pickett gave is two years more than requested by the prosecution.
Taylor used a knife to brutally kill his roommate Hermann Hans Woerrlein, 51, on March 10, 2020, inside a home for those with mental illnesses on the corner of Higbee Avenue and 17th Street.
“This is a crime that shouldn’t have happened,” Public Defender Jason Gustaves said before the sentencing. “Hans didn’t deserve to die. Two families didn’t need to lose their families like this. The hospitals and the courts, the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare have all touched Doug too many times to be righteous. Idaho has a deeply flawed structural system for mental health that has allowed these types of cases to put the public at risk.”
Leading up to the sentencing, Gustaves explained Taylor’s struggles with mental illness over the years. Taylor’s first major struggle with mental illness emerged when he was 20. Taylor reportedly began showing symptoms of schizophrenia, which ultimately progressed to schizoaffective disorder. Throughout this struggle, Gustaves said, between 29 and 32 times Taylor was either hospitalized or committed for mental health treatment.
Things continued to get worse for Taylor’s mental health in the year leading up to Woerrlein’s murder. Gustaves said in April 2019, Ada County tried committing Taylor for mental health treatment, but after he did not meet the criteria, released him after seven days. Taylor was back in court again in November 2019 when a judge committed him to the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare, which sent him to Blackfoot’s State Hospital South in December 2019.
Despite showing signs of someone struggling with mental health, just after five weeks at the State Hospital, Taylor was released on Jan. 23, 2020, Gustaves said. Even two days before his release, Taylor refused to eat meals, isolated himself, exhibited bizarre behavior and more, according to Gustaves.
“It is clear for the past 14 years Doug has had zero stability, zero supervision to manage his medications and mental health and has been a sieve of a system passed through (the) Idaho Department of Health and Welfare as quickly as possible in order to alleviate the pressing need for bed space.”
Gustaves asked Pickett to do what he said IDHW won’t by giving Taylor 15 years in prison. He said in prison Taylor could have stability and treatment to rehabilitate him. He said it would protect society with the option of a parole board to review the man’s status.
“The court needs to send a message that Idahoans deserve better,” Gustaves said. “Treat the people of Idaho. We all deserve better.”
Bonneville County Deputy Prosecutor Alex Muir said there were no words to describe the tragedy of the case. Although Muir said mental illness is a component, it is not the entirety of the case.
“This crime is extremely egregious, personal and violent and heinous,” Muir said. “I think it deserves extreme punishment from this court. The victim in the case — he didn’t deserve to die.”
The night of the murder, an Idaho Falls Police officer arrived at the home on Higbee around 10:30 p.m. A roommate called 911 after hearing a commotion while Woerrlein begged for his life. The roommate said they then found Taylor standing over Woerrlein in a bloody scene while Taylor pulled a knife out of the man’s neck before running out the door.
An autopsy showed 17 stab wounds to Woerrlein’s body and six slashes to the man’s neck, killing him.
Police found Taylor shortly after the murder sitting behind Albertsons on 17th Street with blood-covered clothes. During questioning, Taylor reportedly said he killed Woerrlein because the man was trying to start a new cult with Nazi German mythology, and he did not tolerate proselytizing. Police could not find any evidence supporting Taylor’s claims.
“For several years prior to my killing of Hans I had been having thoughts of killing people or humans,” Taylor told a presentencing investigator, according to Muir. “However, leading up to the killing, I was more sure I would kill this time. I bought a knife intending to use it on someone in a lethal manner. The day of my crime, I planned my method. …”
Muir also said Taylor has known about his mental health for years and has a history of not taking his prescribed medications.
“He certainly has an understanding of knowing what he is like when he is on his meds versus when he is not,” Muir said.
Prosecutors asked Taylor be sentenced 25 years to life and pay $3,155 in restitution to cover Woerrlein’s funeral costs.
Taylor opted not to give a statement before receiving his sentence.
“This is a horrific case,” Pickett said before handing down the sentence. “It’s also a horrifically sad case. I distinguish that because I think your attorney (Gustaves) has laid out — and I’m going to be addressing — those mental health issues. But the state (Muir) has also laid out the heinous nature of the crime, the presentation that went into that.”
Pickett read aloud a letter from Taylor’s mother that said Taylor was supposed to seek help from a hospital if he began feeling homicidal or suicidal. The mother said that Taylor would often seek help, but after a short stay, he would leave care and stop taking his medication. It would follow up with a cycle of continued struggle with mental illness.
“This time, you chose not to do it,” Pickett said. “You chose not to check yourself in. But instead, you chose to purchase a knife. You chose to kill someone, and that someone happened to be your roommate. Sadly, it appeared to be a roommate you got along with. It just became such that he became the target you wanted to kill.”
Taylor will also have to pay a $5,000 fine and the $3,155 in restitution as ordered by Pickett. Taylor will remain at the Bonneville County Jail until the Idaho Department of Correction picks him up to serve his sentence. Taylor will also receive credit for the 23 months he has spent behind bars, meaning he could get out in as little as 25 years.