A psychiatrist testified Tuesday that Barry Loukaitis “knew what he was doing was wrong” but proceeded with a deadly classroom attack in Moses Lake anyway.
Loukaitis, then 14, killed three people - Manuel Vela and Arnold Fritz, both 14, and algebra teacher Leona Caires - at Frontier Junior High School on Feb. 2, 1996. Student Natalie Hintz, then 13, survived but still has not fully recovered from her wounds.
Loukaitis believed Vela was a gang member, said Dr. Alan Unis, a professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the University of Washington.
In a March 1996 interview, Loukaitis said people like that should die, Unis testified. The defendant believed he had no future and thus had nothing to lose by killing Vela, the doctor said.
Loukaitis felt that “though what he would do would not be right, that this person didn’t deserve to live and he would be the one to kill him,” Unis said.
The boy had no explanation for the three other victims, he said.
Loukaitis has pleaded innocent by reason of insanity to three counts of aggravated first-degree murder, one count each of attempted murder and second-degree assault, and 16 counts of kidnapping.
Now 16, Loukaitis is being tried as an adult. If convicted, he could face life imprisonment.
Today, Dr. Julia Moore will return to the witness stand for the defense, to counter the expert rebuttal witnesses offered by Grant County Prosecutor John Knodell and Deputy King County Prosecutor Donna Wise, who is assisting in the case.
Later today, the lawyers and the judge will work out instructions that will be given to the jury - whether they can consider lesser murder charges in the three deaths, for example, or unlawful imprisonment as an alternative to the kidnapping charges.
Closing arguments are expected Thursday.
Asked if he believes Loukaitis could distinguish right from wrong, Unis said: “I believe he knew that what he was doing was wrong and he pursued the killing in spite of that.”
He said he believes Loukaitis suffers from dysthymic disorder, a “distressing, chronic” depressive ailment characterized by sadness and hopelessness. It can result in an inability to control one’s emotional outbursts.
Unis said he was aware that two psychiatrists testifying for the defense had diagnosed the boy as suffering from mixed bipolar disorder, with psychotic and delusional features.
He said he disagreed, that Loukaitis “had none of the features characteristic of mania … or of a major depressive episode.”
The planning and execution of the crime was precise and controlled, with no indication of disordered thinking, Unis said.
Loukaitis’ beliefs about Vela “may not have been accurate, but they were not of delusional proportions,” he said.
Under cross-examination by defense lawyer Mike Frost, Unis agreed that several authors in psychiatric journals have written that bipolar disorder may be underdiagnosed in children and adolescents.
And he confirmed that his initial report on Loukaitis said a possible alternative interpretation of the boy’s history could lead to a diagnosis of a “mixed affective state,” with both depressive and manic symptons.
“Is that the same as bipolar, mixed?” Frost asked.
Unis confirmed that it is.
Is it fair to say his diagnosis and those offered by defense experts are “in the same solar system?” Frost asked.
Yes, Unis said.
He agreed that Loukaitis’ attack - which offered virtually no hope of escape - made little sense.
“It’s very rare for murder to make sense,” Unis said. “I don’t think we’re in disagreement that he has a psychiatric disorder.”
He told Frost that some people suffer brief periods of “reactive psychosis” in response to a “catastrophic stressor.”
He agreed that Loukaitis’ dysthymia would have made him more vulnerable and that a suicide threat from the boy’s mother would have been a “horrible stressor” for the boy.
“The mother was in the midst of her own personal turmoil,” Unis said, but her confidences were “a horrible thing to do to a kid.”
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