Opening arguments in the David Attias murder trial began Monday, more than a year after the horrific incident that claimed the lives of four young people and almost killed a fifth.
Friends and families of the victims and the defendant sat on opposite sides of the court Monday, as counsel for both defense and prosecution presented their cases to the jury.
Attias is charged with nine felonies – including four counts of second-degree murder – for hitting and killing Nicholas Bourdakis, Christopher Divis, Elie Israel and Ruth Levy, and seriously injuring Albert Levy. The defendant, who has plead not guilty by reason of insanity, reportedly drove down Sabado Tarde Road at speeds as high as 60 miles per hour on Feb. 23, 2001.
District Attorney Patrick McKinley began his opening statement by reading the names of the victims to the court.
“I didn’t think it would upset me as much as it did to read those again,” he said. “It was a sight to behold, the carnage on that street.”
McKinley explained the nine counts to the jury: four counts of murder, four counts of manslaughter with gross negligence while driving under the influence of marijuana, and driving under the influence of marijuana resulting in great bodily injury.
“Murder in the second degree is not premeditated. It can be committed in either of two ways: first, did the defendant intend to kill the victims and did he kill them. The other way is implied malice.”
McKinley said implied malice is determined in one of three ways: if the defendant committed an act dangerous to human life; if the defendant was aware of the danger; or if death resulted from the defendant’s actions.
“Either or any combination of those are sufficient to prove murder in the second degree,” McKinley said. “It’s not necessary to prove the defendant intended to kill anybody.”
McKinley said while the defense will argue that Attias suffered from mental psychosis and was unaware of his actions that night, the defendant’s drug use, refusal to take his medication and his “belligerent” nature all support the argument that Attias knew what he was doing.
“The evidence is going to show the defendant used an incredible amount of illegal drugs almost all the time. … The evidence is going to show the defendant didn’t care about other people – he only cared about himself. … When he got to UCSB, it was like turning a kid loose in a candy store – he stopped taking his meds, and deteriorated, until he came down the street, killed [four] people and hurt Bert,” he said.
“Now we hear ‘he’s on meds’ but what you see in the courtroom is not what the highway patrol was dealing with that night … it’s not what the defendant was like on the day he was charged with murder.”
McKinley then played a tape of the defendant’s phone call to a friend, Richard Ramsey, on Feb. 24, the day after the incident.
“I was crazy,” Attias said. “I don’t know. People were walking in the middle of the street and I hit them … Whatever – it’s all good. There were four people dead. … They have not given me shit in writing yet … I didn’t do anything wrong … My dad’s on the way, with his lawyer – it’s kinda funny, dude.”
“What you just heard is the defendant 16 hours later,” McKinley said to the jury. “I ask you to remember that when … the defense tells you he’s out of it.”
Attias’ lawyer, Jack Earley, said that the defendant was remorseful when he returned to a non-psychotic state.
“What he told Richard on the phone, it’s almost like it didn’t even happen to him,” he said. “After he was medicated, he talked about how ‘horrible the thing I did is … there isn’t a horrible enough punishment … there’s no excuse for what I did.'”
Earley described Attias as a mentally ill young man, who was not accepted by most of his peers at UC Santa Barbara.
“What you’re going to see … if you put all the evidence together … it’s going to be completely clear that David’s mental state affected what happened that night,” he said. “After you hear all the evidence, you’re going to reach a verdict that he was not a murderer.”
Earley argued that throughout his life, Attias has showed symptoms of Tourette Syndrome, Ashberger Syndrome, autism, attention-deficit disorder, persuasive-development disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, bipolar mood disorder and schizophrenia. Much of Attias’ erratic behavior, which led peers to believe he was on drugs, were symptoms of his illness, Earley said.
“These are things … that were seen in David from the very beginning – well before this case ever came, before there was any motive to say he had a mental illness,” he said.
Earley said Attias’ “chronic mental illness” incorporates aspects of neurological disorder as well as additional symptoms, including delusions – which the attorney argued Attias suffered from at the time of the accident.
The defense used a series of mirrors, the third of which was completely shattered, to demonstrate how a “psychotic break” can distort a person’s view of the world.
“See in Isla Vista on a Saturday night, it’s only a question of what has a burning couch in front of it … People wander in the street … They have 12 deaths a year where people fall off the cliffs because they’re so drunk,” he said. “If you take someone who has psychiatric problems and you put them in a chaotic scene, it makes them chaotic.”
Earley told the jury that Attias’ decision to go off his medication during Fall Quarter resulted in his increasingly manic behavior in the months leading up to the accident.
“Sometime in about February, that’s when David starts becoming very delusional. He talks about good and evil in the world … he believes his job as a prophet is to spread good. These delusions usually happened at night,” he said. “You’re gonna learn that one of the reasons David was out there that night was that when he talked to God, the prophet said he had to lose his virginity.”
The trial will continue today and is expected to last about 12 weeks.