Engel’s sanity debated | TheUnion.com

Engel’s sanity debated

A psychologist called by the defense in the attempted murder trial of Fred Engel testified Thursday that Engel thought he was doing the right thing when he tried to kill Susan Wallace, while the prosecution implied the defendant knew his crimes were wrong and could be fabricating his testimony.

“We’re not really going to understand Mr. Engel’s delusions no matter how deep we go into it,” said Auburn psychologist Gene Roeder on the witness stand Thursday. “At some point we’ll have to say he’s just crazy.”

Engel said on the stand Wednesday his schizophrenic delusions led him to believe Wallace was running a prostitution ring and had kidnapped and imprisoned his ex-girlfriend. He attempted to kill Wallace, he said, because he “had no forgiveness” for her perceived offenses.

Roeder, who interviewed Engel in September and December 2005 for several hours each time, said Engel was operating by his own set of rules – dictated by his delusions – when he slashed Wallace’s throat, stabbed her and lit her Nevada Street home on fire May 7, 2005.

“The strength of his delusional system was just overwhelming,” Roeder said. “His delusional system forced him to act.”

He confirmed that Engel’s father had been diagnosed with schizophrenia many years ago, and there is a history of mental illness in Engel’s mother’s family.

“There is a genetic component,” he said, adding that a person who has a parent with schizophrenia has 10 times the chance of developing the disease than someone who has mentally healthy parents.

In order for a jury to find that Engel was insane at the time of his crimes, the defense must prove he suffered from a mental disease or defect at the time of the crime, he did not know the nature and quality of his acts and he did not know his acts were legally or morally wrong.

In his opening statement for the second phase of the trial, Assistant District Attorney Ron Wolfson took the position that Engel’s use of methamphetamine exacerbated his delusions and contributed to his acts, and that use of a drug is not an insanity defense.

On cross-examination Thursday, Wolfson brought up a drug test from a sample of Engel’s blood taken 24 hours after his arrest, which proved Engel was high on meth while he committed the crimes.

Engel also testified Wednesday he snorted a line of the drug approximately six hours before he attacked Wallace.

“Is it your experience that most schizophrenics are not violent?” Wolfson asked Roeder Thursday, and Roeder answered “yes.”

In his line of questioning, Wolfson also implied Engel knew his actions were morally and legally wrong, despite his mental illness and drug use.

He asked Roeder which of Engel’s actions pointed toward knowledge of wrongdoing.

Roeder acknowledged that trying to silence Wallace’s screams by cutting her throat, burning evidence, bringing three changes of clothes and leaving the scene of the crime all could mean that Engel knew his crimes were legally wrong.

“Many psychotic individuals after doing something like this will sit down and have a sandwich,” Roeder said.

Wolfson also referred to a report prepared by a psychiatrist who also interviewed Engel and has yet to testify. Roeder has read the psychiatrist’s report, which states Engel told the doctor he returned home three times as he headed to Wallace’s house to kill her and that he was “horrified” by what he was about to do.

Wolfson also asserted that psychology is not a perfect science, citing the Rosenhan study from 1973 in which mentally healthy people went to mental hospitals claiming to hear voices.

“Seven of the eight admitted were diagnosed with schizophrenia,” Wolfson said.

Roeder said he was familiar with the study, and that the psychiatrists at these hospitals were not able to detect that the “pseudopatients” were faking. The patients suffering from real disorders, however, figured it out.

“That’s one of my favorite (studies),” Roeder said, smiling.

Off the stand, Roeder said Fred Engel could not have been coached by his attorney Stephen Munkelt to memorize and dictate his elaborate, complicated and confusing delusions.

“(Engel) would have to have an IQ of 140,” Roeder said. “His IQ is 92.”

More psychological and medical experts, called by the defense and prosecution, are expected to testify beginning at 9 a.m. Tuesday in Nevada County Superior Court.


To contact staff writer Robyn Moormeister, e-mail robynm@theunion.com or call 477-4236.

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