David Attias showed little emotion on Wednesday afternoon as Judge Thomas Adams read guilty verdicts for all four second-degree murder charges to the former UCSB student and a packed courtroom.
The jury – who deliberated for six days – found the 20-year-old guilty of murdering Nicholas Bourdakis and Christopher Divis, Elie Israel and Ruth Levy on Feb. 23, 2001, when he sped down Sabado Tarde Road, at speeds estimated as high as 60 miles per hour.
The jury acquitted Attias of the ninth felony count against him, driving under the influence of marijuana resulting in the great bodily injury of Albert Levy, Ruth’s brother, indicating that they did not think he was under the influence of drugs when the crash occurred.
The four manslaughter charges were nullified because Attias was found guilty of the murder charges.
The overflowing Santa Barbara courtroom was silent as Adams opened the nine envelopes with the juror’s decisions. Attias mother, Diana Attias, cried silently, and Daniel Attias, his father, looked straight ahead as they heard their son’s verdict.
Attias’ lawyers Jack Earley and Nancy Haydt entered a plea of not guilty by reason of insanity, which means the trial will enter a sanity phase to determine if Attias was sane at the time of the murders. Each murder charge carries a minimum sentence of 15 years and a maximum of life in prison, but the judge will decide if the four guilty verdicts should be considered individually or together, if the defendant is sentenced.
Earley said in order to find that Attias was sane at the time of the crash, the court must find that he either understood the nature of his actions, knew the nature of his actions or knew the difference between right and wrong.
If the jury decides the defendant was insane at the time of the crash, he will be committed to a mental institution, where he could stay for the rest of his life, or until a judge or jury finds him sane.
The jury heard six weeks of testimony from over 100 witnesses. Assistant District Attorney Patrick McKinley called 106 people to the stand, including roommates and acquaintances from Francisco Torres, where Attias lived, students who witnessed the crash, and friends of the defendant and victims. Much of the prosecution’s testimony focused on portraying the defendant as an erratic and sometimes rude young man who frequently used illegal drugs.
The defense only called about 10 witnesses, including three psychiatrists and both of Attias’ parents, all of whom testified about Attias’ long history of mental illness.
The verdict, Earley said, shows that jurors are hesitant to acquit because of mental illness.
He said the sanity phase, which will begin Friday, should last less than a week, and will consist of testimony from the same three psychiatrists and one psychologist who took the stand during the guilt phase of the trial.
The doctor’s testimony will differ because they will now be able to tell the jury whether or not Attias was insane on February 23. Earley said they all believe he was.
“[The sanity phase] is going to be very brief. We’re basically going to put on the doctors and get their opinion on whether or not he was insane … all of the doctors agreed he was insane at the time,” Earley said. “Now it doesn’t matter if he took his medication or saw doctors at the time [but] whether he was insane or not … We hope the jury remains open and listens to that testimony.”
Abby Pollack, Israel’s mother, said she was sorry she was unable to be in the courtroom for the verdict.
“We all appreciate what a difficult case this was,” Pollack said. “We want to commend the office of the district attorney and the jury for the incredibly difficult job they did and the seriousness with which they pursued their duty. Given the facts as they were presented to the jury and to us, it seems to me to be a just one.”
Katie Ziegman, a cousin of the Levy’s, said she was thrilled about the murder verdict, but angry that the jury acquitted Attias of the charge related to Albert.
“That’s not right. He should have been found guilty for that,” she said. “I’m thrilled they found him guilty of the four counts of murder. I kinda felt like I was on the edge of my chair, and finally to hear a verdict … I’m happy.”
Earley said the Attias family, who did not comment on the verdict, were “disappointed.”
“It’s been in my experience that in all cases like this it is surreal to people … it’s stunning. It’s hard for people to know how to react,” he said. “Obviously we were all disappointed. It’s difficult because no one knows how the jury reached their decision … We do know they believed there wasn’t drugs involved. We’re gonna assume that it was mental illness they were dealing with, but their verdict doesn’t tell us what their belief was … what caused the second degree murder [conviction].”
It is difficult to tell how Attias’ mental state has changed in the past year, because he is currently on three heavy medications, including at least one anti-psychotic, Earley said.
“Now he’s on medication. That makes all the difference in the world. There’s no delusions, no psychosis now,” he said.
Sean Nicholas, a UCSB student and a friend of Bourdakis and Divis, said he was pleased with the guilty verdict.
“It hasn’t fully sunk in yet. I’m happy. He got what he deserves … but as much as he does, my friends are still gone. I personally hope he goes to jail, because he was driving down Sabado on a Friday night, driving that fast. I think he knew what he was doing,” he said. “I was expecting a guilty verdict. So many of our friends and so many people saw him do it. No one else made him push down that gas pedal … I was worried the system would fail. I’m glad to see justice prevailed and it didn’t become an issue of buying lawyers.”
As long as Attias “doesn’t have the opportunity to hurt other people,” Connor Buckley, another a UCSB student who knew Bourdakis and Divis, said he would be happy with the outcome of the sanity phase.
“I think it’s good they found him guilty because he is guilty, and I’m glad to know that he’s not going to have the opportunity to hurt other people, at least for a long time,” Buckley said. “[The insanity plea] is probably a valid plea. I’m not really bitter or needing a harsh punishment. I just need to know that he’s not going to have the opportunity to do it again.”
The sanity phase will being Friday at 10 a.m. in department two of the Santa Barbara Superior Courthouse.