Sexual Assault Cases Highlight Legal Loophole That Allows Violent, Mentally Ill Defendants to Walk Free

Cane Madden during court hearing.
Cane Madden appearing at court

The criminal saga of Cane Madden, a mentally ill Kentucky man with a long history of violence, including allegedly raping and beating an 8-year-old girl, highlights a legal loophole that allowed him to remain free.

The horrific criminal saga of a Kentucky man named Cane Madden highlights a legal loophole that allows some accused, violent and mentally ill defendants to repeatedly walk free.

In 2017, Madden was arrested for the rape and assault of a Louisville woman. Her attacker bit her face, "removing a large chunk," according to an arrest report. Madden acknowledged committing the attack, but a judge ruled him mentally incompetent to stand trial and he was eventually released.

Two years later, he was arrested in the same neighborhood for attacking an 8-year-old girl, who was bashed in the head with a shovel in her yard and brutally raped, police said. She suffered a fractured skull and significant damage to her genitals, authorities said. This March, a judge ruled again that Madden was mentally incompetent to stand trial and dismissed the charges against him.

A hearing is scheduled for Thursday to determine if Madden, 30, should be confined to a psychiatric facility. He remains in custody pending that proceeding.

At issue in Kentucky's controversial law about mentally ill defendants are clauses that state people can only be held against their will if they will benefit from treatment, even if they are considered a danger to themselves and others. That stipulation can result in violent offenders walking free, without receiving mental health treatment or serving prison time, authorities said.

"It's sad, because it doesn't make any sense. Anyone who is that mentally ill — that they have to capacity to hurt someone — they just let them go. It's crazy," said Hardin Commonwealth's Attorney Shane Young, who has prosecuted about 10 cases like Madden's, and in roughly half of those, the defendant went on to commit another crime, he said.

"It's a crazy loophole," he said. "It's just crazy. It defies common sense."

Young knows of no other state with such a law, he said.

Prosecutors have long complained about the law, but attempts to change it have consistently failed to obtain enough votes in the state legislature. The costs of housing mentally ill, violent defendants have been cited as roadblocks to changing the law, as have concerns about locking up the mentally ill without their consent.

After the March ruling in Madden's case deemed him incompetent to stand trial in the child rape case, a new bill was introduced, and it needs to be passed Tuesday as the legislature ends its current session.

The current law stipulates that mentally ill defendants who are found incompetent to stand trial can only be committed for hospitalized treatment if they meet the following criteria:

  • They must be deemed a danger to self or others.
  • They must be expected to benefit from treatment.
  • Hospitalization is the least restrictive available treatment. 

Madden has spent most of life traveling in and out of the mental health and criminal systems. He has been hospitalized or jailed 20 times in his young life and arrested multiple times on charges of assault, burglary, sexual abuse, rape and criminal mischief, according to court records, WDRB-TV reported. 

In each case, he was found mentally incompetent to stand trial and was briefly treated at mental health facilities, the station reported.

The two sexual assaults Madden acknowledged committing, according to police, have taken on racial overtones because they occurred in the same predominantly Black Louisville neighborhood of California. Residents, saying they were terrified of Madden coming back to their streets, started a petition to prevent his release. More than 11,000 people have signed the online document, demanding protection from "A man who sexually assaulted and bit off parts of one of his victim’s face in 2017 but then was released back into the community!"

Critics of Madden, who is white, have posted online comments saying "white privilege" resulted in his releases and point to the sexual assaults victims being Black.

Dr. Timothy Allen of the Kentucky Correctional Psychiatric Center testified in February that Madden was mentally competent to stand trial for the 8-year-old girl's rape, saying had learned to "manipulate the system" during his many interactions with mental health authorities and law enforcement.

But Dr. Allan Josephson, of the University of Louisville, testified at the same competency hearing that Madden was incompetent to stand trial and it would be “virtually impossible” for him to assist his attorneys. Josephson cited severe mental disorders and said Madden showed symptoms of PTSD from being abused as a child. 

At an earlier competency hearing in another case, mental health experts testified about Madden's disturbing behavior while being held in psychiatric facilities.

“Cane stated his goal was to be placed in a community where he could kill and rape the first female he came in contact with,” said Dr. James Anderson, who evaluated Madden in 2017 after police said he confessed to the sexual assault in which he bit off part of his victim's face.

Madden had "threatened to rape and kill his sisters ... Cane can also be destructive and be abusive towards animals,” Anderson said in court, reported WAVE-TV.

He also said Madden had ripped nurses’ clothes off, touched staff sexually and sent several employees to the hospital with injuries. Madden also said he wanted to rape a child between the ages of 3 to 6, the psychiatrist said.

He was deemed incompetent to stand trial and released. Six months later, he was accused of raping the 8-year-old child, the station reported.

Madden's public defender, Steven Harris, declined an interview request from Inside Edition Digital.

The fault for repeated releases of offenders such as Madden lies not with judges, lawyers or the system, according to prosecutors. Rather, it lies with the law itself, said Young.

"We're just operating off statutes," he said. The hands of judges are tied, he said. They have to apply the law, and the law says that if a person cannot benefit from treatment, the person cannot be involuntarily committed to a psychiatric facility. 

"The legislators need to get off their a***s and do something. That's what they're paid for," the prosecutor said. Simply removing the law's section about benefitting from treatment would solve the problem, he said.

These people need help, he said. "I'm not saying its their fault. But it's not that little girl's fault either," he said, referring to the child he was accused of raping.

"It's like a revolving door. You prosecute somebody and you know what's going to happen," Young said, "you know they're going to do something else."

And the end result, Young said, is "the system is not protecting the public."