David Attias was legally insane on February 23, 2001, when he killed Nicholas Bourdakis, Christopher Divis, Elie Israel and Ruth Levy, and seriously injured Levy’s brother Albert, a jury found on Thursday.
Only a week after the same 12 jurors convicted the 20-year-old UCSB student on four second degree murder charges, they found that Attias was unable to tell the difference between right and wrong that night in Isla Vista.
Attias will now be evaluated by the Tri-County mental health director, who will make a recommendation to the court on July 12. Attias will then be placed in a state mental institution until a court finds him no longer a threat to society, which is different than finding him legally sane.
Attias will be allowed to petition for release as early as 180 days from his committal, but it is unlikely he would be released that soon because of the nature of his actions.
After thanking the jury for their hard work, Santa Barbara Superior Court Judge Thomas Adams read the verdict, which the jury spent two days deliberating on, to a packed courtroom. Attias’ parents and grandmother broke into tears, as did Patricia, Bourdakis’ mother. One of the jurors was also crying.
Attias who was notably more alert than he had been during the previous eight weeks in the courtroom, looked pleased.
“David said he was so pleased,” said Nancy Haydt, one of Attias’ attorneys. “And he was looking forward to seeing his family on the weekend when he has visiting hours.”
Outside the courtroom, Bourdakis’ father Anthony said he was angry about the verdict, but expressed his gratitude to assistant district attorney Patrick McKinley and the entire prosecution team for their hard work and dedication to the case.
“First let me say how incredibly disappointed we are with the outcome of the trial,” he said. “By rendering the insanity verdict, the state of California has once again demonstrated to the rest of the country that you can twist the facts to your advantage and get away with murder. The tragedy of what happened can’t be undone and, in our opinion, David Attias will not serve the appropriate time for killing four young people and horribly injuring a fifth.”
McKinley later said outside the courthouse that the Bourdakis family was devastated by the jury’s decision.
“As you can imagine, this is very fresh in their minds. It’s been a difficult grind for them. No matter what the verdict is, now … this serves as a catalyst to either go on with their life or sink again,” he said.
Katie Ziegman, a cousin of the Levys, said she would have rather seen Attias go to jail, but “either way, if he’s off the street, I’m fine with it.”
Daniel Attias, who had not commented on the case since his son was arrested over a year ago, said he was grateful to the jury.
“We want to first express gratitude to the jury and court. We are grateful for the decision. We think it was just,” he said. “We’re mindful that this was a horrible, horrible tragedy. The losses that were incurred on February 23 were permanent and we were shaken and saddened. We’re grateful that the tragedy wasn’t compounded today.”
Attias’ defense team, Jack Earley and Haydt, said they, as well as the entire Attias family, were pleased.
“We’re grateful to the jury,” Earley said. “David will probably spend the rest of his life in a mental institution, and that’s an appropriate place for this to end. … We hope cases like this make people realize mental illness does affect everybody and can have tragic consequences.”
Much of the defense testimony had focused on Attias’ long history of mental illness. Earley said the jury’s decision “tells me that they realized it was not a drug thing, it was not a hate thing, it was a mental health issue. … The problem with this case, as with anything else, is that it’s random. It was a car accident.”
Earley also said that his client “wouldn’t have lasted” in a penitentiary, but that the likelihood of his release from the mental institution, even in years, is small.
“The state mental hospital is not a pretty picture,” he said. “Patton State Hospital [in San Bernadino] is an old, overcrowded unit – there are no frills – … but they are dealing with treatment there.”
McKinley, however, said that what will happen in six months or a year is “anybody’s guess.”
“I think nobody knows,” he said. “He’ll stay there for six months, he may stay there forever. Historically speaking, he will not spend the rest of his life there.”
McKinley said while he recognized Attias’ mental problems since the beginning of the case, he was never convinced that Attias was legally insane when he sped down Sabado Tarde Road, and he fears that the verdict could allow the defendant to make a similar decision again.
The prosecutor, who has worked in the district attorney’s office for over 30 years, said that this case was different than other murder trials he has worked on because of Attias’ mental history, and that the chance of him being allowed into society again was unsettling.
“His history indicates that him going off his meds has been going on since 1995, and unless something changes, that will happen again,” he said. “After the jury went out in the sanity phase, I was thinking a lot about what to do and say if they found him sane, because he is very sick and everyone knows it. [But] this isn’t like the other 20 murder trials I’ve sat in on; … this defendant doesn’t belong on that chain … but I think he’s very dangerous if he’s out because of his non-compliance with his medication. If he drives again, it will be scary.”
The court will meet again on July 12 at 1:30 p.m. in department two of the Santa Barbara Superior Courthouse to evaluate Attias and sentence him to a mental hospital.