Drugs, erratic behavior and car accidents dominated the majority of testimony this week as multiple witnesses testified regarding David Attias’ behavior leading up to, and the night of, Feb. 23, 2001.
Attias is charged with four counts of murder, four counts of vehicular manslaughter while driving under the influence of marijuana and one count of gross negligence resulting in great bodily injury while driving under the influence of marijuana, for the 2001 collision that killed four people and injured a fifth. He has pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity.
On Thursday, John Valenti, one of the investigating officers from the California Highway Patrol, took the stand. Valenti was questioned by the defense about his evaluation of Attias about two and half hours after the collision took place.
Two of Attias’ friends, Richard Ramsey and Scott Ammann, testified on Wednesday and Thursday, respectively. Both men, who knew Attias from Los Angeles, refused to talk to CHP investigators before their testimony, but did talk to the defense team.
Ramsey said he refused to be interviewed by the prosecution because he “would say what he had to say in front of the jury.” Ramsey also said the CHP officers who contacted him had been “pushy and aggressive,” and made him uncomfortable.
Ramsey has maintained contact with the defendant since his arrest and was the friend Attias called from jail on Feb. 24, 2001, the day after he was arrested. He said the conversation with Attias was “unusual” because the defendant was “calm and monotone … like he was in shock or something.”
Attias and the witness were supposed to go to a rave in L.A. the night of the incident, but Attias called Ramsey that day and said he didn’t want to drive down, according to the witness’ testimony.
“I really didn’t feel comfortable with him staying up there,” Ramsey said. “He talked about wanting to lose his virginity that day, that evening.”
Attias’ demeanor and taste in music changed in the months before the incident, according to Ramsey. He said the defendant became “paranoid” beginning in January.
“When we first met, he listened to electronic music. Towards mid-January he started listening to a lot of rap,” he said. “He really began idolizing the rap performers and he even began to talk like they did … [In January and February] he talked about how God picked DJs to spread good through the world and he was also picked to spread good.”
Ammann, who met Attias at the gym he works at in L.A., said he did not remember the conversation he had with Attias the day of the collision. He recalled very few details from any of their interactions, but did admit that Attias called him the week of the incident at about 2 a.m. and said, “he was very scared and knew the end was near.”
“Did that alarm you?” Assistant District Attorney Patrick McKinley said.
“Not really,” Ammann said.
Also on Thursday, Mark Pollard, an Agoura Hills resident, testified that his car struck Attias’ in January of 2001 approximately two miles north of the interchange between Highway 101 and Interstate 405. The accident resulted in minimal damage to both cars. Pollard’s description of Attias immediately after the accident differed from the hyperactive and socially awkward way previous witnesses characterized the defendant.
“[Attias] wasn’t strange at all,” Pollard said. “We just tried to work the problem out. He didn’t seem to be under the influence of anything.”
Pollard said private investigators working for the Attias family had visited his home and showed him the IVTV video of the accident scene. However, Pollard said Attias’ actions on screen were nothing like how he acted after the January accident.
“Nothing in the video resembled Attias,” he said. “I’m not sure why they showed the video. I’m assuming they wanted me to give some kind of reaction. I don’t know why.”
Hallie Johnston, a UCSB student who lived in Francisco Torres Residence Hall at the same time as Attias, also gave testimony regarding Attias’ behavior. Johnston said Attias exhibited a volatile temper and irregular attendance during a class she had with the defendant in Winter Quarter of 2001.
“The TA would talk about something and he would get agitated for no reason,” Johnston said. “He would take what the TA said to heart, I think. The TA said, ‘If you can’t calm down, you should leave,’ so [Attias] left.”
Johnston also said that she and her group of friends welcomed Attias despite his odd mannerisms.
“His face was animated, his eyes were always wide open and he moved around a lot more than most people,” she said. “He was usually by himself, but we were nice to him because he seemed like a nice guy and he didn’t have other friends.”
The prosecution is expected to finish with their witnesses on Tuesday, May 14. The defense will begin arguments on Monday, May 20.