Insanity plea in death of 3
Alleged triple-murderer Scott Harlan Thorpe pleaded innocent by reason of insanity Thursday in Nevada County Superior Court to the Jan. 10, 2001, shootings.
Judge Carl F. Bryan II set a trial for March 25 and appointed two psychologists to interview the 42-year-old Smartville man on the insanity issue. Both doctors would likely testify at the trial.
So far the trial is estimated to last 10 days. But where it’s held remains a question. Because of the case’s widespread publicity, Thorpe’s lawyer, Public Defender Thomas Anderson, plans to research a possible change-of-venue motion that could lead to the trial being held in another county.
But there are benefits to having local residents hear the case, he said. “I think they appreciate that Mr. Thorpe’s behavior was a result of mental illness.”
District Attorney Mike Ferguson has seen only three change-of-venue cases in his 20 years with the office. One trial was held in Sutter County, where the man who started the 49er Fire was tried, and one in Placer County for a molestation case.
The third trial, a double-murder case, was heard by Placer County residents who elected to hear the evidence in Nevada County.
Thorpe’s insanity plea will prompt a two-phase trial, if it occurs. The first phase will decide whether or not he’s guilty, which Ferguson would have to prove beyond a reasonable doubt.
If found guilty, the second phase would require Anderson to prove if Thorpe was insane at the time of the killings.
Whether or not he’s found insane is the difference between a long stay in prison or in a state mental hospital, Anderson said.
There’s still a chance a settlement could be reached to avoid trial, but Ferguson said he will wait until the court-appointed doctors file their reports.
For now, Ferguson doesn’t believe Thorpe meets the legal requirements for an insanity defense.
“Personally, I don1t think he does, but I’m not a psychologist,” he said.
Under the law, one required element for such a defense is that he didn’t know the difference between right and wrong.
“It’s not like he thought he was saving the world,” Ferguson said.
Anderson called insanity tough to prove under California law, but he believes Thorpe1s case meets the requirement.
“His thought process at the time was such that it wasn’t under control,” he said
After the shootings, Thorpe was diagnosed with schizophrenia and deemed incompetent to stand trial. After more than a year in state mental hospitals in Atascadero and Napa, he was returned to Nevada County and found competent.
He’s accused of opening fire in back-to-back shootings at the Nevada County Department of Behavioral Health Services, where he was a client, and at Lyon1s Restaurant, which he allegedly believed conspired against him.
Three people died and two were wounded from gunfire, and a sixth person was seriously injured jumping from a window at Behavioral Health.
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