During closing arguments for the David Attias murder trial on Monday and Tuesday, prosecutor Patrick McKinley said the psychiatric defense is “based on lies,” and defense attorney Jack Earley said Attias’ record of mental illness means that “this is not a murder trial.”
Attias, who was a freshman at UCSB last year, was arrested on Feb. 23, 2001, after his Saab hit and killed Nicholas Bourdakis, Christopher Divis, Elie Israel and Ruth Levy on Sabado Tarde Road. Levy’s brother, Albert, was seriously injured, but has since almost fully recovered. He will not testify because he has no memory of the crash.
The 20-year-old defendant is charged with four counts of second-degree 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.
The defense has entered a plea of not guilty by reason of insanity, which means if Attias is convicted of any of the nine charges, the trial will move to a sanity phase. Earley said he expects the jury to reach a guilt verdict by Friday.
For the jury to find the defendant guilty of second degree murder, the prosecution must have proved there was forethought or malice; that Attias knew what he was doing was wrong.
During their closing statements and rebuttals, both McKinley and Earley emphasized minute parts of the five weeks of testimony in an attempt to discredit one another’s cases.
McKinley talked about the students and residents who witnessed the incident, as well as the victims.
He said that of the 109 witnesses the prosecution called, the defendant could have killed the 11 of them who were on the street that night.
“At the beginning of the case … I told you this. You were going to hear very little about the people who were killed or injured in this case. You don’t get nursery school pictures of Ruthy. You don’t get bar mitzvah pictures of Elie. You don’t know anything about them – except they’re dead. I ask you to keep that in mind,” McKinley said on Monday at the beginning of his arguments.
McKinley repeatedly tried to invalidate the insanity plea by referencing what the defense called a break with reality as “the shortest psychotic break in the history of the world.”
“The entire psychiatric defense is based on lies that Mr. Attias told to psychiatrists 10 months after 11:08 on February 23,” he said. “Mr. Attias made a choice – he chose to do what he did. He drove down the street with his foot floored to the gas pedal. He didn’t think he was plugging in a toaster or flying a spaceship – he wasn’t out of it.”
Earley said the defense is not arguing that Attias had a four minute psychotic break, but that it would have been easy for someone with the mental illness his client has to be “taken away from reality” for a short time.
McKinley asked the jury to remember what Attias was acting like on the IVTV video of the aftermath, and charged that he never attempted to help the victims.
“I want you to take his words seriously – ‘I’m the angel of death,’ ‘Bring it on,'” he said. “I looked at the video again on Friday. There are five separate fights with Mr. Attias. You can’t see who starts the first one, but he started the other four. … No one’s saying ‘Get the driver,’ and hitting him.”
Earley said the defendant’s lack of remorse “shows that he doesn’t know what was happening. It’s almost like he was disassociated from what happened. What do you think people who are actively psychotic are really like?” he asked the jury. “All of the doctors have said that a hallmark of mental illness is the patient’s inability to recognize it within himself.”
While it was Earley who characterized the students at Francisco Torres, where Attias lived, as “cruel,” he refuted McKinley’s claim that Attias sped down Sabado Tarde because he was angry. Earley said mental illness was a more likely cause of the incident.
“No other explanation has been offered by the prosecution. David did not commit murder,” he said.
Several psychiatrists testified that Attias told them he went to I.V. that night because he had to lose his virginity or he thought he would die. They also said he doesn’t remember hitting anyone.
McKinley said Attias’ version of the events that night – which he told to psychiatrists ten months after the incident – is unreliable.
“Did he go down that street because of a party on Del Playa or because he was … mad, violent and aggressive?” McKinley asked. “Mr. Attias doesn’t get out of the car and say anything about the defense we hear ten months later … Just because somebody says something doesn’t mean it’s true.”
Earley said witness testimony does not point to “road rage,” but rather to a break from reality.
“[Francisco Torres resident] Josh Wolf said David wasn’t mad … He just wanted to find a party,” he said. “They want you to believe he went angry.”
McKinley also argued against the negative characterization of FT.
“It wasn’t Terry Chew’s fault those kids are dead, it wasn’t FT’s fault those kids are dead … It was Mr. Attias’ fault. And you hear [those psychiatrists] testifying like they were on Montel or Ricki Lake, like it wasn’t [his fault],” McKinley said. “Mr. Chew nor anybody else at Francisco Torres was spoken to by Mr. Attias’ mom or dad … and now the defense wants to blame FT kids, it’s their fault … One might ask how you’d feel if you’re the parents of Terry Chew, and you send your kid off to college and they get the roommate from hell, and nobody tells you what’s going on.”
“If you were David Attias, would you have wanted to say, ‘I have a mental illness. I am different from everybody else?” Earley said. “David went through a hazing you don’t go through at a fraternity … that’s not to blame [the FT residents], but to look and say how does this fit into a history of mental illness.”
At the beginning his arguments, Earley pulled out a huge birthday cake and set it in front of the district attorney.
“This was supposed to be for Judge Adams’ birthday, but instead, I’m gonna give it to Mr. McKinley, because when it comes to witnesses, he wants to have his cake and eat it too,” Earley said.
Earley said many of the witnesses’ testimonies were influenced by their own bias and opinions about the defendant, and cautioned the jury against letting this bias influence them.
“You can’t look at the evidence one way for the district attorney and another way for us,” he said. “When I talk about demonizing David, [McKinley] brings up things from jail … Do you know what he’s saying? He’s saying you can join in with the students – you can not like him and that’s ok.”
Earley also criticized the prosecutor’s drug and alcohol expert witnesses, and said McKinley introduced evidence selectively. He said testimony of one of the investigating officers was invalid, because the officer said on the stand that one beer does not have an affect on him but criticized the marijuana experts who testified that even a minute amount of marijuana could affect your driving.
The defense also argued Attias could not have been going as fast as the prosecution claimed, about 60 miles per hour, and brought up an expert’s testimony who said the same damage could have been done if Attias had stopped at the stop sign on Camino Pescadero and Sabado Tarde.
The comparatively small number of witnesses called by the defense was also explained in Earley’s closing argument.
“We only called a few witnesses, but not because we didn’t need to call people the prosecution called. People like [FT resident] Katherine Brownstein were essentially defense witnesses, and they testified about David’s psychotic behavior before the accident,” Early said. “It made it seem like we didn’t have any witnesses.”
McKinley said all of the evidence points to a guilty verdict on all of the charges.
“We proved, beyond a reasonable doubt, that he chose to do what he did. He mowed people down, he didn’t brake, he didn’t steer away. He went faster and faster and he killed them … His defense is based on something that doesn’t exist, and that’s why he should be found guilty of second degree murder.”
The defense said that to find Attias guilty, the prosecution must have proved beyond a reasonable doubt that he was guilty.
“If one fact is not beyond a reasonable doubt, throw them all out,” he said. “The prosecution’s case is only as strong as it’s weakest link.”
Earley cautioned the jury to reach a fair, and not “emotional” verdict, and remember Attias’ history of mental illness.
“When you make a decision on this case, you walk out of the courtroom and [your decision] stays with Mr. Attias for the rest of his life,” he said. “You may decide maybe you’re mad at the parents, maybe you’re mad at the school … but you need to look at what the law tells you to do.”