February 15, 2011 in City

Strandberg ordered hooded to prevent spitting

By The Spokesman-Review
Christopher Anderson photo

Cole Strandberg is restrained and fitted with a spit guard while leaving the courtroom for noon recess during his trial in Spokane County Superior Court Tuesday. The mesh guard was installed after Strandberg spit on his own attorney Monday.
(Full-size photo)

Accused killer Cole K. Strandberg wore a hood in court today after he spit in his lawyer’s face on Monday. It is the second day of a hearing to determine whether Strandberg was insane when he allegedly used a crossbow to kill a Spokane woman.

Defense attorney Chris Bugbee said he and jail staff requested the hood, which has black mesh around the eyes that allows Strandberg to see. Superior Court Judge Tari Eitzen approved the use of the hood but said the decision could be revisited if the case goes to trial in May. On Monday, Eitzen also had maintenance crews install hardware to keep Strandberg shackled to a table.

Barbara Strandberg testified today about her son’s condition leading up to Jan. 7, 2008, when he went to a local hospital to report that a body was in his apartment. Police later discovered the body of 22-year-old Jennifer Bergeron at Strandberg’s apartment, at 1304 S. Chestnut St.

On the day of the killing, Strandberg called his mother. “He said, ‘Mom.’ Then he couldn’t say anything. I finally hung up,” she said.

Strandberg called a second time and again didn’t speak. “I couldn’t get a word out of him. I could tell there was trouble,” his mother said.

Strandberg, 24, has previously been ruled competent to stand trial for aggravated first-degree murder. But the current hearing was called to determine whether he is not guilty of the killing by reason of insanity. If Eitzen rules in favor of Bugbee, Strandberg will be civilly committed to a mental institution.

If not, he faces a trial on May 16 where prosecutors will seek to keep him locked in prison for life.

After Barbara Strandberg testified, Bugbee called Dr. Richard Adler, a forensic psychiatrist, who was hired as an expert to assess whether Strandberg has been faking his delusions as a means to get out of his murder charge.

Adler said he believes Strandberg suffers from paranoid schizophrenia, which affects about 1 percent of the general population.

The symptoms include social withdrawal, blunted emotions and an inability to interact socially.

In Strandberg’s case, Adler believes he suffers from what’s known as early-onset schizophrenia, which presents at about age 13 rather than the more typical age 20-25.

“To see it in a younger person is very rare,” Adler said.

Of the 1 percent of the population who have schizophrenia, only about 1 percent of that subset develop the disorder as early-onset, he said.

“The symptoms are somewhat atypical from adults because they don’t have the ability to conceptualize what is happening to them,” he said.

A psychologist testified Monday that Strandberg has delusions about living in another world where he hears voices commanding him to kill. He believes he can ride what he calls a “circus train” to fictitious locations where killing is the norm.

Because those symptoms began at an early age, Strandberg has a harder time than most determining through life experience which of his worlds is reality or delusion, Adler said.

Strandberg’s first warning signs came from a threatening message he left a teacher and a bomb threat at school when he was a young teenager, Adler said.

“He cut the head off a cat and put the body in a mailbox,” Adler said. “This is a worrisome signal … that is extremely rare. But when one sees it, it catches your immediate attention.”

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