BOISE – A Boise man convicted of killing two college students in a road trip across the West was sentenced Tuesday to two life terms in prison with no parole.
John Delling was suffering from mental illness when he killed David Boss and Bradley Morse and nearly killed Jacob Thompson, but that didn’t stop him from thoroughly planning and carrying out “a multistate murder spree,” said 4th District Judge Deborah Bail as she sentenced him after nearly a day of testimony from medical experts and relatives.
Before being sentenced, Delling apologized but said the crimes wouldn’t have happened if other people hadn’t been “using me as Jesus or something like this, trying to sacrifice me to give people eternal life.”
“First of all a sincere apology to the families, especially Dave’s family for what I did,” Delling said. “Dave was a really good friend of mine. If it hadn’t been what some people did to me … I’m not going to do anything like this ever again. It’s not even my nature.”
The testimony from medical experts and Delling’s mother described him as a child who lived under the tyranny of mental illness, his adolescence and adulthood punctuated by violence and bizarre delusions.
Delling’s father, a Vietnam War hero who saved three fellow soldiers, was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and had a debilitating mental illness, said Dr. George Woods, a psychiatric expert who testified for the defense. His uncle had obsessive-compulsive disorder and other major problems, Woods said.
Kids in the Boise neighborhood where Delling grew up referred to his father as “Crazy Ray,” mocking the family and targeting young John Delling for being different, his attorney Gus Cahill said. That stigma could have encouraged Delling to keep his own burgeoning paranoid schizophrenia secret, Cahill said, when he started displaying symptoms at 16.
Ultimately, Delling became entrenched in an elaborate delusion that a group of children had begun stealing his energy – and that the energy theft would kill him if he allowed it to continue. Woods told the court that in Delling’s mind, the murders were necessary for him to save his own life.
By the time he was about 17, Delling began hitting himself hard enough to leave bruises, pulling his own hair and believing others were stealing his aura, his mother, Carol Ogle Delling, said.
He was arrested on charges of battery and stalking, but his family never suspected he’d focus his delusions on the one person he’d always considered his closest friend: David Boss.
The Dellings met the Boss family just weeks after they moved from California to Boise. At the time, John Delling was a kindergartner, and he became fast friends with young David Boss, who took on the role of protector, sticking up for John and defending him from the neighborhood bullies.
“John absolutely loved Dave. He was his very best friend – they were very best pals since they were in kindergarten or first grade,” Carol Delling said.
Carol Delling was overwhelmed with trying to care for her husband, who was then so disabled by mental illness that he wasn’t able to work. She said the family was targeted with prank phone calls, John was threatened at school and he isolated himself from everyone.
“I felt like it was the impact from the other kids that put that dark cloud on him,” she said.
Carol Delling said she begged Delling’s probation officers to get him mental health treatment to no avail.
Boss’ father, Richard Boss, said he longed to see his son choose a career, get married and have children. He looked forward to spending time with David as an adult.
“In 22 years you can only do so much, but you have time to develop integrity and character, and David did that,” Richard Boss said.
Delling has shown no remorse for the murders, Richard Boss said.
Bail said there was no denying that Delling was motivated solely by paranoid schizophrenia, but she agreed with prosecutors that he showed cunning and forethought in his crimes and could hide his delusions when it suited him. That makes him especially dangerous to society, she said.
It’s unfortunate that Delling’s illness didn’t hamper his ability to plan or carry out the murders, she said – and he could have carried out more if he hadn’t been stopped. “There is evidence of enormous premeditation,” she said. “There were four other people on the list that were also marked for death as a result of the defendant’s delusions.”
Delling first attempted to kill former classmate Jacob Thompson in Tucson, Ariz., shooting him in the face, shoulder and arm. Thompson survived. Delling next flew to Boise, where he rented a car and waited for Morse to leave work. He shot and killed the unsuspecting Morse, dumping his body in a pond.
Then, Bail said, Delling called his old friend David Boss in Moscow, Idaho, and asked if he could come for a visit. When Boss opened his apartment door, Delling shot him point-blank.
“His mental illness does not affect his lethality,” Bail said. “It is unfair and unreasonable to place society at any risk. He could conceal his delusions and act on them against anybody again.”