Barry Loukaitis was in a psychotic, “robotlike” trance that compelled him to shoot three people dead in a Moses Lake classroom last year, jurors at his murder trial were told Tuesday.
Dr. Julia Moore, a Federal Way, Wash., psychiatrist, testified that Loukaitis “was like a walking raw nerve” because of a severe mental illness called bipolar disorder.
On top of the illness, Loukaitis was carrying the burden of his parents’ imminent divorce and his mother’s “emotional incest,” Moore said.
Loukaitis’ mother turned to her 14-year-old son as her only friend as her marriage deteriorated, and she told him in detail about her plan to kill herself, Moore said.
“The divorce and her suicide plan terrified him,” the defense witness said. “And her overdependence on him, this emotional incest, added even more to his already deteriorating brain.”
Loukaitis took his father’s rifle, two loaded handguns and more than 70 rounds of ammunition to Frontier Junior High School the afternoon of Feb. 2, 1996.
Dressed from head to toe in a Western-style black hat, boots and duster, he blasted away at his algebra class, killing Manuel Vela, 14, with a single shot.
Arnold Fritz, 14, was the next to die, from a shot to the chest. Loukaitis then critically injured Natalie Hintz, 13, and turned and shot his teacher, Leona Caires in the back. She died instantly.
Loukaitis has pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity, but gave a lengthy confession to Moses Lake police. The slender defendant, now 16, is charged with three counts of aggravated first-degree murder, attempted first-degree murder, second-degree assault and 16 counts of kidnapping.
He is being tried as an adult. If convicted, Loukaitis could go to prison for life without parole. If found not responsible for his actions, he would be confined and treated until a judge determines he is no longer dangerous.
Moore first spoke with Loukaitis about a week after the shootings, then saw him more than a dozen times over the course of a year, she told jurors Tuesday.
The honor student was possessed by a psychotic delusion that began seven days before the rampage, Moore said.
Walking home from school on a Friday afternoon, it “clicked” that he would kill Vela, the witness said.
As he carefully prepared for the killings, Moore said Loukaitis wasn’t plotting a murder, but was caught up in a grandiose delusion over which he had no control.
Loukaitis spent more than $200 of his own money on the duster, asked around school for ammunition before stealing it from his father, and took his dad’s guns out of an unlocked cabinet in the family room.
He re-tooled a leather ammunition belt so it would hold bigger bullets. He even thought to take earplugs with him to the classroom to muffle the blasts of his guns, and two speed loaders to help him reload more quickly.
He also carefully cut a pocket out of the duster to conceal the rifle as he walked to school. But none of that was premeditation, Moore said. It instead shows the intensity of the illness that drove Loukaitis.
During the shooting, “He was delusional, in a dissociated, catatonic state with robot-like, odd behavior. It was something in his head he acted out that compelled him.”
As he fired at his classmates, Loukaitis was unable to think or know what he was doing, or understand that it was wrong, Moore said. “There was no mind.”
Loukaitis also was influenced by the Stephen King book “Rage” and the Pearl Jam music video “Jeremy,” she said. Both tell disturbing tales of violent kids terrorizing classrooms.
His calm demeanor during the shooting was not the mark of a cold-blooded killer, but a kid in a psychotic trance, Moore said. “He was out of touch with reality.
“He wanted to correct the evil he saw represented in the body of Manuel Vela and restore order and rightness in the world.”
Vela had called Loukaitis a “faggot” not long before he shot him dead, Moore said.
But Loukaitis didn’t feel anger during the shootings, Moore said. In an interview with her about a week later, she said Loukaitis told her “he had no emotions and no thoughts.
“He felt he was controlled by a computer and he didn’t have the program. It was like he was a train on a track, and he didn’t put the train on the track.”
Moore said Loukaitis appeared to get better after she prescribed lithium, an anti-depressant, which he is still taking. She also prescribed the drug for Loukaitis’ mother.
There is an extensive history of mental illness in the Loukaitis family, running back five generations, according to Moore.
Loukaitis now knows what he did was wrong, Moore said, and he feels remorse. “It came up many times, from Barry’s heart. He was very remorseful, sorry, shocked and overwhelmed at his having caused the victims’ families so much pain.”
During cross-examination, Deputy Prosecutor Donna Wise got Moore to admit her diagnosis of Loukaitis is not equivalent to establishing that he was legally insane at the time of the killings.
Moore said a diagnosis does not in and of itself indicate whether a person has control over his behavior.
Wise suggested Loukaitis could have been carefully planning and visualizing the killings, and even enjoying them.
For Loukaitis to be acquitted, the defense must prove he didn’t understand the nature of what he was doing or that it was wrong.
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MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: WHAT’S NEXT? The defense will present more mental health experts who will testify that Barry Loukaitis was insane when he killed two classmates and a teacher.