Key mental health witness testifies for defense
Vail, CO Colorado
GEORGETOWN, Colorado – A psychiatrist testifying for the defense Tuesday said Richard “Rossi” Moreau was on a downward spiral in the months leading up to his shooting spree at the Sandbar in West Vail, a spiral that made him feel like a failure who couldn’t dig himself out of his increasing state of depression.
Dr. Richard Martinez, a professor of psychiatry at the University of Colorado School of Medicine, who also holds many other professional positions within his field, was the key witness for the defense. His testimony supports the defense’s argument that Moreau’s mental state on the night of Nov. 7, 2009, is the reason he should be found not guilty of first-degree murder and seven other felonies because defense attorneys say he couldn’t form the culpable mental state to commit the crimes.
Martinez’s testimony was the longest of any witness during the trial so far, covering everything from Moreau’s history in the Vietnam War, his life afterwards, the medications he took in the years and months leading up to the shootings, and his state of mind that night. He testified from just after 9 a.m. until 3 p.m., not including about an hour and a half of breaks.
Defense Attorney Reed Owens said during his opening statements last week that in order to understand someone, you have to have “walked a mile in their shoes.” That’s what Defense Attorney Dana Christiansen tried to do with Martinez on the stand Tuesday – he tried, through Martinez’s testimony, to get the jurors to understand why Moreau did what he did.
Martinez developed his opinion of Moreau’s state of mind and mental history by listening to nearly four hours of interrogation video, watching the Sandbar surveillance video from the night of the shooting, two in-person interviews with Moreau, one phone interview, and the analysis of Moreau’s other medical and military records.
Moreau first sought treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder around 1979, Martinez said – about 10 years after he had returned from 18 months in the Vietnam War. In the war, he was a radio teletyper who called in coordinates for bombings. Martinez also testified that Moreau “had direct combat exposure” during the Tet Offensive.
“Depending on the original trauma, most people manifest (post-traumatic stress disorder) differently,” Martinez said, adding that “repetitiveness of exposure to danger” is a variable correlated to the seriousness and intensity of the disorder.
Martinez testified that he spent a lot of time trying to get to know Moreau through Moreau’s point of view. He was also looking to see whether he was oriented, had organized speech and language, delusional thoughts or hallucinations.
He also used Moreau’s history to determine if Moreau was “malingering,” or distorting the truth or lying. When Christiansen asked him if Moreau showed signs of malingering, Martinez said no, but did add that Moreau exaggerated some things “because of his personality style.”
“He’s kind of misrepresented himself on a number of occasions,” Martinez said, using Moreau’s claims of war-related medals as an example. Martinez added that there wasn’t an indication he malingered his diagnosis.
On cross examination, however, Chief Deputy District Attorney Steve Mallory asked Martinez more about Moreau’s honesty during the mental evaluations. Martinez first said he felt Moreau was totally honest, then retracted that by saying Moreau was honest in the sense that he was forthcoming with information and willingly participated in the interviews.
But Mallory reminded Martinez of things Moreau said during the evaluations that later turned out to “not be so true.” He also reminded the jurors that Martinez was hired by the defense as an expert and was being paid for his testimony.
The medals he earned in Vietnam, for example, as well as telling Martinez he had never been married were details that were later determined to be false, Mallory said.
“Isn’t it more difficult to diagnose somebody who’s not being totally honest?” Mallory asked.
Martinez later testified that subjective reporting – the reports the defendant or patient makes about himself and his history to the examining doctor in a mental evaluation – “is a very important part of how you make the diagnosis.”
Martinez characterized Moreau as someone who exhibited one of the key symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder: Anxiety, including feelings of “hyper vigilance.”
Moreau felt unsafe in the world because of his past experiences in Vietnam, Martinez said. It’s one of the reasons he liked to have weapons with him most of the time, in order to “always be ready to defend.”
Insomnia is something Moreau also claims to have suffered from for years, Martinez said, pointing to his frequent contacts with the Veterans Administration in Grand Junction seeking out new prescriptions to combat the problem.
“A lot of the struggle in his treatments has been trying to find the right medications to make him sleep,” Martinez said.
And, in addition to the post-traumatic stress disorder and insomnia, Martinez said Moreau has suffered from depression for years.
While Moreau formally sought treatment in 1979 for the PTSD, Moreau’s own accounts and earlier Veterans Administration records suggest he had problems with anxiety and was drinking during the 1970s, Martinez said.
Moreau kept diaries, too, the writings in which Martinez said you could see “a man struggling with his demons.”
“There disappointment with himself. He feels he’s failed, is a horrible human – there’s certain shame he feels that he hadn’t become a more productive person in society, that he hadn’t lived up to some of his expectations of himself,” Martinez said.
Then came the medications Moreau took for years, beginning with prescription records dating back to 1992 and going through just weeks before the shootings. The defense presented a slide show of the various medications Moreau was prescribed over the years. They included everything from anti-depressants like Prozac, Zoloft and Trazodone to anti-anxiety drugs like Xanax and Buspar.
The consistent adjustment of medications and dosages shows a “juggling act going on between the physician and the patient,” Martinez said, adding that the fact Moreau’s doctors at the Veterans Administration continued to prescribe so many medications was concerning because most standards of care try to simplify medications.
“You can’t keep up with all the side effects and how all these neurotransmitters are being impacted,” Martinez said, adding that Moreau’s alcohol use likely played a role in causing various symptoms or side effects, too.
Mallory asked during cross-examination about which medications he was taking at the time of the shootings – specifically asking about the Ambien, the drug Martinez claims could cause delusions.
Martinez used examples of possible delusions, including a phone message he left for his friend and therapist Darlene Hoffman about an hour before he went to the Sandbar on Nov. 7, 2009, and another comment Moreau made to witness Steven Corr that a family had just accused him of molesting their child – something that “came out of nowhere,” Martinez said. (Moreau had attempted to play with the child in the bar very briefly, which can be seen on the surveillance video.)
“There’s question about intent here because of the state of mind I’ve described to you,” Martinez said.
Mallory asked Martinez if Moreau’s claims were that he took Ambien two weeks before the shootings, then when talking to medical professionals changed that story to that he took it the night before the shootings, and then said he took it two days before the shootings. Then, as evidence came in about when he received the Ambien in the mail, Moreau went back to a story that he actually took it a week before the shootings. Martinez confirmed Mallory’s account of Moreau changing his story.
And to the point of shooting with intent, after deliberation – something Martinez testified he thought Moreau couldn’t have possibly done based on his mental state – Mallory reminded him of the testimony and witness account of Steven Corr, the sound technician who knew Moreau in passing and was there the night of the shootings.
“Steve said he thought he would have been shot if Moreau wouldn’t have recognized him – that statement would indicate he was able to deliberate, right?” Mallory said.
Martinez brushed the question aside by saying Corr’s statement was merely an interpretation of why Moreau didn’t shoot him.
The prosecution rested its case Monday, but is expected to call a rebuttal mental health expert to the stand today or Thursday. That witness is a psychiatrist from the Colorado Institute of Mental Health in Pueblo – the hospital where Moreau was sent for a court-ordered mental health evaluation last year.
That testimony, as well as the remaining defense testimony, is expected to wrap up by Thursday evening. District Judge R. Thomas Moorhead will give jurors instructions on the law Friday for their deliberation after about two hours of closing arguments by attorneys.
Assistant Managing Editor Lauren Glendenning can be reached at 970-748-2983 or firstname.lastname@example.org.