September 12, 1997 in Nation/World

Therapist Says Loukaitis Sane Teen In Touch With Reality At Time Of Killings, Psychologist Testifies

Lynda V. Mapes Staff writer
 

Barry Loukaitis knew he was committing a horrible crime when he shot up a Moses Lake classroom last year, killing two classmates and his algebra teacher, a psychologist testified Thursday.

Testifying for the prosecution, Bellevue psychologist Delton Young told a King County jury he found “not a shred of evidence” that the boy was out of touch with reality before, during or after the killings.

Loukaitis, who has confessed to the February 1996 rampage at Frontier Junior High, has pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity. He killed Arnold Fritz, 14, with a single shot to the chest. Manuel Vela, 14, died from a shot Loukaitis fired just below the neck a close range.

He shot his teacher, Leona Caires, in the back as she stood at the chalkboard. Caires died instantly. Natalie Hintz, 13, was wounded.

The trial has included bloody photos and graphic testimony that was too much for two jurors, who bailed out of the trial right away. An alternate juror left because of a family emergency.

Thursday, another juror who kept falling asleep was excused by the judge.

The juror also viewed TV reports of the trial and tried to tell his fellow jurors about it. Jurors are supposed to ignore all media reports about the case and to refrain from talking about it to anyone.

With no alternate jurors left and another week to go in the trial, Grant County Prosecutor John Knodell said he hopes nothing else will go wrong with the jury.

“One person slips in the bathtub, and it’s over,” Knodell said.

The trial is in its third week and a mistrial would be a financial disaster for Grant County, which is paying for both the prosecution and the defense of Loukaitis.

Loukaitis is charged with three counts of aggravated first-degree murder, attempted first-degree murder, second-degree assault and 16 counts of kidnapping.

While only 14 at the time of the killings, Loukaitis is standing trial as an adult. If convicted, he could spend the rest of his life in prison. If acquitted, he would be confined and receive psychiatric treatment until a judge determines he is no longer dangerous.

The defense, which rested Thursday, has centered on Loukaitis’ mental state in the days leading up to the shooting, during the killings, and shortly thereafter.

Defense attorney Michael Frost of Seattle called two psychiatrists to the stand who swore Loukaitis was possessed by a psychotic delusion so powerful that he could not understand what he was doing or that it was wrong.

In rebuttal of the defense case, Young said standardized psychological tests conducted in April 1996 showed Loukaitis is a normal kid who is in fact exceptionally gifted at paying close, sharp attention to what is going on around him.

Young also found no unusual levels of anxiety and determined that Loukaitis had good coping skills, solid self-esteem and above-average intelligence.

He said he found no evidence of illogical thinking, racing thoughts or psychosis. He did find Loukaitis to be depressed, and somewhat uncomfortable around other people.

“Of course, he had just been incarcerated and charged with a horrible crime,” Young said. “So there could be reasons for that.”

Young pointed out his tests were administered before Loukaitis started taking lithium to curb the effects of bipolar disorder, a metal illness that two other psychiatrists diagnosed in the teen.

Where other psychiatrists saw a steadily deteriorating mental state in the weeks leading up the shootings, Young said Loukaitis told him, “I was doing fine, enjoying things about as much as usual. I was content.”

Loukaitis did say his anger was increasing. But Young said it remained “vague.” Some teachers reported changes in his behavior while others didn’t. Loukaitis was an honors student and had no history of being a discipline problem.

“He was quite an unhappy, tense and angry kid with attitudes, but none of those resulted in impairment,” Young said. He described the diagnosis of psychosis as “more than a stretch.”

He added: “There is abundant evidence that in the days prior to, during and after the shooting that Barry was perfectly clear about what he was doing … he was shooting people and they were dying.”

During cross-examination, Frost got Young to admit that mental health professionals can disagree on a diagnosis and that doesn’t say anything about the qualifications or good faith of the professionals involved.

Frost argued that Young failed to establish good rapport with Loukaitis and his diagnosis missed two crucial facts: that the boy hated his father, and that his mother told him she planned to kill herself.

Young conceded those things would add stress to Loukaitis’ life, but the witness didn’t change his conclusion.

In its rebuttal case, the prosecution intends to call another psychiatrist Monday who will testify that Loukaitis was sane at the time of the shootings. The case could go to the jury as soon as Wednesday.

The trial was moved to King County because of extensive pre-trial publicity.

, DataTimes

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