David Attias has said he does not remember running into five people on Feb. 23, 2001, according to testimony that court-appointed psychiatrist Donald Slutzky gave on Wednesday.
The doctor, who was on the stand all day, said Attias also told him that he left Francisco Torres Residence Hall that night because “he thought he was going to die” if he didn’t lose his virginity “within five minutes.”
Slutzky said that after going over Attias’ medical history and conducting three interviews with him – two in December 2001 and one in January 2002 – he concluded that the defendant does suffer from mental illness, including symptoms associated with schizophrenia and autism.
Attias, a former UCSB student, is on trial for second-degree murder, manslaughter and gross negligence resulting in great bodily injury for the Sabado Tarde Road collision that killed four people and seriously injured a fifth. The defendant, who pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity, faces a maximum sentence of life in prison.
Defense attorney Jack Earley began the day by going over a summary of Attias’ medical history, both physical and mental, which detailed his entire life up to now. The defense chronicled everything from Attias’ frequent ear infections, which began in the first year of his life, to his Ibuprofen suicide attempt while he was in county jail last April.
Slutzky said it is typical for people who suffer from mental illness later in life to have had medical problems early on.
Included in the summary was information about Attias’ medication history – from the Ritalin used to counteract hyperactivity, which was prescribed to the defendant when he was eight, to the anti-psychotic Lithium that he took while committed to a UCLA adolescent ward when he was 13. Attias, who is 20 years old, has received prescriptions for numerous other anti-psychotics, anti-depressants and sedatives over the course of his life.
The prosecution has brought up Attias’ refusal to take medicine many times throughout the trial. Slutzky said many patients placed on anti-psychotics don’t like them because they are sedatives and tend to dull the mind.
“So you may see at times someone who appears uninterested and unable to focus – heavy medication may affect that?” Earley asked in reference to Attias’ often-sedated appearance in the courtroom.
“Yes, as well as uninteresting events in the court room,” Slutzsky replied.
The psychiatrist then testified about his own evaluation of the defendant, including what Attias told him about the night of the incident.
“I recall he said he had a purpose for going, he wanted to lose his virginity, … he was going to die if he didn’t do this right away,” Slutzky said. “It was a psychotic, delusional thought. He got in his car and drove, someway, down to the crash sight.”
Slutzky said the Attias told him he missed a turn and ended up on Del Playa Drive, where there were a lot of people milling around.
“It was chaotic, he rolled down the window and wanted to join the activities. He said the next thing he knew the car was spinning, he got out and there were people on the ground,” he said.
According to Slutzky, Attias said that when the car stopped, his legs and arms were stiff and he heard someone yell, “Get the driver,” so he had to defend himself.
“In the first interview he didn’t minimize his role, and he expressed remorse?” Earley asked.
“As a matter of fact, he said on two occasions that whatever happens to me wasn’t bad enough compared to what happened to other people,” Slutzky said.
Slutzky said he thinks Attias was having a psychotic episode, which can affect a person’s sense of reality. He also testified that Attias admitted to smoking marijuana a few hours before the collision.
During a cross-examination, deputy district attorney Patrick McKinley brought up the 10-month time lapse between the collision and Slutzky’s first evaluation of Attias. He also suggested that Attias’ narrative about Feb. 23 may not be reliable – he said there was no way to verify that Attias drove down Del Playa and also mentioned that the defendant’s window was rolled up when he crashed.
“Can people who are psychotic, while they’re in a psychotic state, still think about what they’re going to do and go and do it, even though it involves something as serious as murder?” McKinley said.
“Yes,” Slutzky said. “It seems to me he didn’t know right then that he was ill.”
McKinley, who said there was no dispute to the fact that Attias has a history of mental illnesses, also asked Slutzky if a mentally ill person could still know that what they were doing was wrong.
“What if what [Attias] told you is true, and he has everything wrong with him that you and Mr. Earley think he has wrong with him, and he said ‘I’m going have sex,'” McKinley said. “Does that mean if he had parked his car and dragged a girl into the bushes and raped her, would that mean he didn’t know what he was doing?”
“No,” Slutzky said.
“He’d know damn well what he was doing,” McKinley said.