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Failed warnings arose as killer’s paranoia grew

John Dickey
John HartNevada County Public Defender Tom Anderson shows Judge Carl Bryan a timeline of Scott Harlan Thorpe's mental health treatment. Thorpe is on trial this week to determine whether he was legally insane when he killed three people and injured two in a January 2001 shooting spree.
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A former county case worker testified Wednesday she was afraid of Scott Harlan Thorpe after he became obsessed with her.

Pamela Chase made those fears known to higher-ups in the Department of Behavioral Health Services, but they chose not to commit Thorpe, 43, to a mental institution, according to Chase’s testimony.

On one visit to the department in 2001, Thorpe opened fire, killing two employees and seriously injured another before continuing his shooting spree at a Lyon’s restaurant.

Chase was one of three witnesses called by Thorpe’s attorney on the second day of an insanity trial before Nevada County Superior Court Judge Carl F. Bryan II. Though Thorpe has pleaded guilty to three counts of murder and two counts of attempted murder, the trial will determine whether he was legally insane at the time.

The two other witnesses presented were psychologists who testified they did not believe Thorpe could distinguish right from wrong because of his paranoid schizophrenia and delusions.

“Mr. Thorpe really did not understand the intent, or did not understand right from wrong in his actions that day,” said Alfredo Amezaga Jr., a clinical psychologist.

Defense testimony will resume today with a fourth expert witness on Thorpe’s mental state.

Obsession sparked lethal paranoia

Chase’s problems with Thorpe started on April 5, 2000, when Chase said she met with Thorpe and his girlfriend. Two weeks later, Thorpe’s girlfriend called and told Chase that Thorpe believed Chase had somehow signaled to him that she wanted to have his baby.

Chase asked if Thorpe was dangerous and was told he did have weapons and would defend his property.

Chase said she took the girlfriend’s information very seriously. She said she talked about it with Dr. George Heitzman, a contract therapist for the county. Chase said she wanted the sheriff’s office to do a spot check on Thorpe’s welfare. But according to Chase, Heitzman told her they couldn’t do it, because they didn’t have the grounds and were working with third-hand, confidential information.

Heitzman did tell receptionists not to route Thorpe’s calls to Chase, she said.

Chase said she received more phone calls about Thorpe, prior to a June letter. Thorpe’s sister-in-law, Sharon Thorpe, called, saying he was getting worse, was obsessed with Chase and had a family history of suicide. Both his father and grandfather killed themselves.

Effort to commit Thorpe failed

On June 27, 2000, Chase got a certified letter from Thorpe, then a client of the county’s Department of Behavioral Health Services. He asked if she was coming to his funeral and ranted about the FBI.

“I was extremely frightened,” Chase said.

On July 3, 2000, Thorpe was given a “5150” evaluation to determine whether he should be committed involuntarily.

Chase said she was later told by John Eby, a crisis worker, that Thorpe said he wouldn’t hurt her or anyone else, and was seeking another psychologist.

Heitzman wrote a note that Thorpe was potentially dangerous and still fixated on Chase.

“I was very angry they didn’t 5150 Scott,” Chase said.

Chase said Thorpe’s family was increasingly concerned. When she told Heitzman that he needed to call Thorpe’s brother, Chase said Heitzman threw up his hands and said he couldn’t talk to the family because of confidentiality.

Ten days before the shootings, Chase got another call from Thorpe’s relatives saying their calls weren’t being returned by Heitzman. She said she went to Robert Gillespie, behavioral health’s program manager, saying he needed to deal with it.

On the day of the shootings, Chase said she was warned by Laura Wilcox, a receptionist who was fatally shot, that Thorpe would show up that day.

“Pam, Scott’s coming in for an appointment today, and I wanted you to be safe,” Chase recalled Wilcox saying at 10:30 a.m.

Shots were reported at the Department of Behavioral Health Services at 11:28 a.m.

Killed were Wilcox, 19, and caregiver Pearlie Mae Feldman, 68. Judith Edzards, supervising health technician, was injured in the shooting. Intern Daisy Switzer also was hurt when she jumped from a second-floor window in trying to escape Thorpe.

‘His own standards

of right and wrong’

Besides Chase, Public Defender Tom Anderson also called two expert witnesses who spoke on Thorpe’s mental state.

During cross examination, District Attorney Michael Ferguson recalled a statement that Thorpe reportedly made at the time of the Lyon’s shootings.

“I’m going to kill all you sons of bitches, you’re trying to kill me,” Thorpe reputedly said.

“Within his own mind, within the context of his actions, that was morally justifiable,” Amezaga said.

“Isn’t Mr. Thorpe creating his own standards of right and wrong?” Ferguson asked.

That’s inherent with delusional disorder, Amezaga replied.

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