Mental health experts duel over Amaya’s sanity in El Jebel murder trial
The Aspen Times
The prosecutors and defense team in the El Jebel double homicide trial called dueling mental health experts to the witness stand Tuesday to try to sway the jury about Williams Anderson Amaya’s sanity.
For a second day, public defender Reed Owens had officials from the public mental health hospital in Pueblo testify on Amaya’s mental state at the time he fatally shot his aunt and uncle in their Sopris Village home in July 2014.
Amaya is charged with two counts of first-degree murder and two counts of attempted murder. He pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity.
Dr. John Hearn, a forensic psychiatrist who undertakes evaluations on a contract basis at the state mental hospital, reiterated his determination from Monday that Amaya was “legally insane at the time of the crimes.”
A second expert witness, neuropsychologist Jose Vega, testified that Amaya scored so high for signs of psychosis on a couple of tests that the results were ruled invalid. However, another test indicated Amaya did not “malinger” or exaggerate his claims to make himself appear mentally ill, Vega said.
Vega also works on a contract basis at the state mental hospital.
Chief Deputy District Attorney Joe Kirwan countered by calling Hal Wortzel, a forensic neuropsychiatrist, to the stand.
Wortzel didn’t perform an examination of Amaya but was hired by the DA’s office to examine the results of Hearn’s evaluation. He said he found it deficient in a number of ways.
“The conclusions drawn are not supported by the data in the report,” Wortzel said.
For example, when first contacted by police early the morning after the shootings, Amaya claimed he didn’t have anything to do with the death of Eliseo and Myra Lopez. He claimed he jumped out the window of the bedroom he was renting in their home when he heard an argument. He later told investigators that the Lopez’s teenaged boys were responsible for the shooting to get insurance money.
It wasn’t until an interrogator hemmed him in that he had an “eruption, if you will, of delusions,” Wortzel said. Among the claims: that the Lopezes were possessed by the devil and that killing them was necessary for the benefit of mankind.
He also claimed to be related to Hillary Clinton and, in a different statement, said he was the son of Bill and Hillary Clinton. At various times he told investigators and mental health evaluators that he was the son of the devil or Lucifer himself.
Wortzel claimed there were several red flags in Amaya’s story that should have triggered caution in a mental health evaluator. For example, he went and purchased the pistol he used in the shootings the same day of the act, indicating he was plotting out his action. He also told the Lopez boys he would kill them if they told police he shot their parents.
At the Pueblo hospital, he didn’t have any unusual reaction when a Clinton political ad appeared on television, and he didn’t write any letters to Paris Hilton, who he claimed was a long-lost relative.
The delusions only popped up during “declared observations,” when Amaya was aware he was going through a mental health evaluation, Wortzel claimed.
The prosecutor’s psychologist criticized the defense’s psychologist for not “teasing out facts” from Amaya. “There were many, many unasked questions, as reflected in the report anyway,” Wortzel said.
And without those facts, he deemed Hearn’s report of no value.
“It’s a poor analogy here, but the devil’s in the details,” Wortzel said.
Wortzel added that he couldn’t say whether or not Amaya was sane at time of the shootings. He may have a mental illness, he said, but that doesn’t meet the state standard for insanity in a criminal case. To be found insane, it must be determined the person couldn’t appreciate the wrongfulness of their actions or they lacked the ability to form a culpable mental state.
Kirwan will call one additional mental health expert to the stand Wednesday, then the sides are scheduled to deliver closing arguments on Thursday. The jury will start deliberations after the arguments and jury instructions.