David Attias, the former UCSB student who was convicted June 11 of four counts of second-degree murder and found legally insane a week later, is now in Patton State Hospital, where he will spend a maximum of 60 years.
The 20-year-old was on trial for killing Nicholas Bourdakis, 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. Attias was also charged with driving under the influence of marijuana resulting in the great bodily injury of Albert Levy, Ruth’s brother, a charge for which he was acquitted.
The murder trial began in April, over one year after the incident occurred, and lasted eight weeks. Prosecuting attorney Patrick McKinley called over 100 witnesses over six weeks, including numerous Isla Vista residents and UCSB students.
Only one week after Attias was found guilty of the murders, the same jury found that he was legally insane at the time of the murders.
After the insanity verdict, which Judge Thomas Adams read on June 19, Attias underwent evaluation by psychiatrists and psychologists at the Ventura County Health and Behavior Unit. The doctors said that because Attias’ crimes were particularly severe and violent, he should be placed in a state hospital specializing in the care and treatment of mental disorders.
Patton is a major forensic mental health facility in San Bernardino operated by the California Department of Mental Health. It currently houses between 1,100 and 1,200 people committed by the judicial system for treatment.
On July 12, Adams agreed with the recommendation and placed Attias in Patton, pending the restoration of his sanity. If Attias does not fully recover, he will be released in 60 years, the time he would have served in prison had the jury found him legally sane at the time of the crime.
Under California law, Attias is allowed to request a court hearing after only 180 days of treatment at Patton; however, Jack Earley, one of Attias’ attorneys, said it is highly unlikely there will be any reason to return to the courtroom that soon. In order to be permanently released, Attias will have to go to trial again, where a jury would have to find him no longer a threat to society.
“What will happen is in 180 days they’ll say he’s not ready to be released and there will be no action taken,” Earley said. “He has the right to file [for a court appearance], but there’s no reason to file until he makes significant improvement. We can expect it will be years before we see anything.”
Earley said that Attias has not yet been permanently housed.
“I haven’t visited, but from [what] I understand, he’s still in the reception center; he doesn’t have permanent housing yet … over the next month or so more stuff will happen. He’ll have more permanent housing and the doctors will be working with him [more intensely],” he said. “Obviously, he has real problems and he obviously has to start working through them … I know he’s grateful for the opportunity to make himself better.”
Abby Pollack, Israel’s mother – who was in court almost every day – expressed disappointment at the verdict.
“I’m just going to assume there will be enough of us present each time David Attias comes up for appeal that Judge Adams will pay close attention to everything and everybody before he says, ‘You’re cured,’” she said.
Judge Adams, who has dealt with the case since it began in 2001, took a few moments after the placement hearing to address the courtroom and those who the case affected. He also wished the entire courtroom, and Attias in particular, luck in the future.
“I have been involved with this case since the moment it occurred. By coincidence, I happened to be the on-call judge contacted [on the night of the incident],” he said. “The parents and loved ones, know you have been in my thoughts and prayers ever since that terrible, fateful early morning.”
Adams also said he felt the scope of the trial extended far beyond Sabado Tarde Road, where the incident occurred.
“It was a tragedy for all concerned and it has touched the hearts of people all across the nation,” he said.
After the insanity verdict, several of the families involved also made public statements regarding the verdicts.
Pollack said she was “puzzled” by the jury’s decision.
“I’ll probably never know quite what happened in the [insanity phase] of the trial. People have given me different ways to interpret how he’s guilty of murder and insane,” she said. “I don’t fault the jury. I think they worked really hard. … But given the way California law works and other sanity cases that have been held recently in California, I was surprised.”
Pollack also praised the district attorney’s office’s work on the case.
“McKinley did a hell of a job,” she said. “That whole office, they worked so hard. Months and months and months of work on [McKinley's] part, [CHP investigating officer] Dave Robertson, his staff and the county of Santa Barbara … all that painstaking work sort of tossed, gone.”
In June, Bourdakis’ father, Anthony, said he was angry Attias was found insane, but expressed his gratitude to 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.
Daniel Attias, who had not commented on the case since his son was arrested, said in June that 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 [by the jury's decision].”
Attias’ defense team, Jack Earley and Nancy 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.”
The four families of the victims and Albert Levy also filed a wrongful death and personal injury civil case in February against Attias and his parents, Daniel and Diane, which alleges that the parents acted negligently when they entrusted Attias with a car.
Ronald Rouda, the Levy family attorney who is heading up the lawsuits, said the case is not set to go to trial until May 2003.