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The Journal Times
By Jeff Wilford
RACINE – David Larsen knew what he was doing when he beat his ex-wife last January and left her to die and shouldn’t be eligible to use an insanity defense against kidnapping and murder charges, a psychologist concluded.
Kenneth Smails was appointed by Racine County Circuit Court Judge Dennis Barry to evaluate Larsen, 40, who had pleaded innocent by reason of insanity to charges of kidnapping, murder, attempted murder and interfering with child custody.
Smails’ conclusion alone does not undo Larsen’s plea. Defense attorneys have had their own evaluation of him conducted, but it’s not been made public. Prosecutors are planning their own evaluation of Larsen as well. When all three evaluations are finished, Barry will decide, based on their findings, whether an insanity plea is justified.
Larsen told Smails that he could only remember bits and pieces of the Jan. 31, 2004, attack on Teri Jendusa-Nicolai: That as he was putting items into one of his daughters backpacks, he looked up to see Jendusa-Nicolai standing behind him, in his house, holding a hammer over his head and her sweatpants around her ankles; that he grabbed a bat and swung it at her; that he reached for duct tape, but doesn’t know why; that he was driving with his children in the truck, maybe lost, and could see the Sears Tower in Chicago; that he took his children to a baby-sitter’s house and then went to work, where police arrested him.
Jendusa-Nicolai had a fuller, and substantially different, memory of the attack, according to court records. She went to Larsen’s house to pick up their children, and Larsen told her the girls wanted her to come inside and find them. She hesitated, but went inside, where Larsen struck her in the back of the head with a baseball bat.
“We’re gonna have to talk,” Larsen told her as he kept hitting her in the head with the bat, according to court records. “Just go to sleep. I want to take you to a hotel and talk about this,” he said as he put rags about her mouth and nose. “Stop moving!” he said as she turned her head and he kept hitting her with the bat.
Jendusa-Nicolai told police she pretended to faint and Larsen stopped hitting her, according to court records. He put her in a garbage container, put it in the truck and drove off. She tried to call someone on her cell phone, but hung up because she heard Larsen coming to the back of the truck. When someone called her back, Larsen took the cell phone away. When Larsen tried to sit up in the trash can, to attract the attention of other motorists as they drove, Larsen would stop the truck, go to the back and hit her with a baseball bat.
Larsen drove her to a self storage facility in Wheeling, Ill., where he put the trash container with her still in it, and locked the door. Police found her the next day. Jendusa-Nicolai was still alive, but lost all her toes to frostbite, and the 5-week-old fetus she was pregnant with.
Larsen told Smails he was under mounting stress in the time months leading up to the attack. He had to miss a lot of work as an air traffic control, some of it unpaid, because he was taking an anti-depressant, according to court records. He was stressed about having a hard time seeing his children, who lived with Jendusa-Nicolai. He discovered that people for whom he was building a dome in Texas (he was also a contractor) planned to withhold payment of between $80,000 to $120,000.
Although Larsen admitted to being depressed because he was being held in jail, he had no history of mental illness, Smails wrote.
Smails concluded that Larsen’s behavior showed he knew what he was doing was wrong. “There would be no known reason to dispose of her body in another state in a storage shed except to hide evidence of wrongful conduct.”
Also, on Monday prosecutors filed papers indicating they planned to use DNA evidence at Larsen’s trial, which is tentatively scheduled for Jan. 24. The DNA is from Jendusa-Nicolai, taken from inside Larsen’s Wind Lake home, District Attorney Mike Nieskes said.