Psychologist casts doubt on Marsh insanity defense — (The Davis Enterprise)

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The Davis Enterprise

By Lauren Keene

September 14, 2014 |

WOODLAND — A clinical psychologist who evaluated accused killer Daniel Marsh found the teenager “overplayed” his reaction to the antidepressant medications he was taking around the time of his alleged crime, possibly in preparation for his insanity defense at trial.  Dr. James Rokop testified in Yolo Superior Court on Friday that Marsh, who changed his plea to not guilty by reason of insanity in June, had discussed the defense tactic with others at Juvenile Hall as long ago as September 2013.

During six hours of interviews with Rokop that took place over a two-day period last month, Marsh, 17, disclosed that he felt no change after recently being weaned off anti-anxiety medications, but then halted the conversation to emphasize that he “feels way different being off antidepressants,” according to Rokop.

“I felt that was a little bit overplayed on his part … pushing the NGI defense in the interview, suggesting that everything was related to medications and that he felt so much better not taking them,” Rokop added, noting that Marsh still showed signs of being depressed and homicidal “while trying to convince me that he wasn’t having these urges.”

Marsh’s defense has revolved around the antidepressant and mood-stabilizing drugs he was taking between January and April 2013, when Oliver “Chip” Northup, 87, and his wife Claudia Maupin, 76, were fatally stabbed in their Cowell Boulevard condominium on the early morning of April 14. Marsh is being tried as an adult on two counts of murder with special circumstances.

Deputy Public Defender Ron Johnson has said the medications succeeded only in worsening Marsh’s mental illness, resulting in uncontrollable homicidal urges that his doctors and therapists failed to recognize or treat.

But Rokop said Friday those claims are inconsistent with reports that Marsh’s severe depression and school performance seemed to improve after he began taking the medications, according to the doctors and Davis High School educators who regularly interacted with him.

Crime recalled

Still, Marsh continued to have recurrent thoughts of torture and death, several witnesses testified in court last week, though Rokop said he perceived those visions to be images Marsh had seen on the Internet websites he frequented as opposed to “legitimate” hallucinations.

The teen also shared his world view that the people around him were “cockroaches and parasites” and that “everyone deserved to die, except for children,” Rokop said. He said he had admired and studied serial killers such as Ted Bundy and Jeffrey Dahmer, at one point stealing a ski mask from Big 5 “with the idea that someday he would commit a murder.”

He cast blame on Northup and Maupin for their deaths, referring to them as “stupid Davis people” for leaving a window open for him to sneak through, according to Rokop, who recalled Marsh’s description of the attack in chilling and graphic terms that brought family members in the courtroom to tears.

As he left the crime scene, “he couldn’t stop smiling and laughing and saying, ‘I’m a murderer,’ ” inflicting two slashes on his arm — one for each victim — as a reminder of what he had done, Rokop said.

Marsh’s father lived two doors down from the slain couple, and although he did not target them for that reason, “he did take satisfaction that it did scare his father and sister that a crime had been committed so close,” Rokop said.

The killings gave Marsh an emotional high that lasted a few days, “and then he got the urge to do it again,” Rokop said. He said Marsh went out two more nights — once armed with a baseball bat, once with a knife — in search of victims, at one point getting within 10 feet of a woman before he noticed a group of kids nearby, so “he decided not to pursue it.”

However, Marsh did say he killed several cats after the murders, which along with earlier killings of a raccoon and a vulture he attributed to the medication side-effects. But Rokop noted that Marsh’s records indicate he had also killed birds as long ago as 2006, indicating he had violent ideations prior to taking the drugs.

Rokop also expressed skepticism in Marsh’s statement that he “didn’t recall” whether he had smoked marijuana on the day of the crime, even though he had reported using it as much as several times a day. “You wouldn’t expect that pattern to suddenly discontinue,” he said.

Police arrested Marsh in June 2013 after two friends he confided in about his crime reported him to police, an act that Rokop said surprised Marsh because he thought they were “OK with it.” He also said Marsh seemed “taken aback” when asked why he hid evidence of the crime at his own home, inside his mother’s garage.

“There’s no way the police would think a 15-year-old would do something like this,” Marsh replied, referring to his age at the time of the murders.

Rokop concluded by saying he diagnosed Marsh with major depressive disorder, conduct disorder — a precursor to antisocial personality disorder, which is a diagnosis limited to adults — and sexual sadism, based on the teen’s reports of feeling aroused when exposed to images of pain and torture.

Witness challenged

Deputy Public Defender Ron Johnson got partway into his cross-examination of Rokop on Friday before court adjourned for the weekend.

During that time, Johnson posed questions suggesting it wouldn’t have been unusual for Marsh to discuss possible defenses last fall because he was well into the court process at that point, and that a previous interview with another psychologist gave him insight into what had triggered his alleged crime.

“He’s probably relieved at that revelation and wants to share it with you,” Johnson said, to which Rokop replied: “I believe that he knew what was going on with him for a long time.”

The trial resumes Monday with Rokop’s continued cross-examination. Judge David Reed informed the jury that the guilt phase of the case could be in their hands by the week of Sept. 22.

If Marsh is convicted, the trial moves to a second phase where jurors must determine whether Marsh was legally sane or insane at the time of the murders.

— Reach Lauren Keene at lkeene@davisenterprise.net or 530-747-8048. Follow her on Twitter at @laurenkeene

 

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Jurors to determine sanity in Daniel Marsh case

After reaching a unanimous guilty verdict, jurors in the Daniel Marsh case are now tasked with determining the teen’s mental state when he stabbed an elderly couple to death in their Davis home.

“You must decide whether he was legally insane when he committed the crime,” explained Yolo County Superior Court Judge David Reed on Monday.

After only two hours of deliberations last week, the four-man, eight woman jury found Marsh guilty for the murders of Oliver “Chip” Northup, 87, and his wife Claudia Maupin, 76, who were found in their Cowell Boulevard condominium the night of April 14, 2013.

The jury also agreed to the enhancements for lying in wait, torture, and use of a deadly weapon, in this case a six-inch hunting knife used to stab the victims more than 60 times each.

Marsh changed his plea to not guilty by reason of insanity on June 2, allowing a continuance of the long-awaited trial. Though Marsh was 15 at the time of his arrest, he is being tried as an adult.

As friends and family of the couple celebrated the verdict, Marsh, now 17, fought back his emotions — his face turning red, both eyes shut tight as one-by-one jurors agreed he was guilty of first degree murder, which requires a finding of premeditation and deliberation.

Jurors left the courtroom Friday afternoon knowing their work was unfinished.

In light of Marsh’s change in plea, the jury will hear further testimony and evidence to help determine Marsh’s mental state while committing the murders, bringing them back to what Public Defender Ron Johnson said weeks ago.

When he delivered his opening statement, Johnson told jurors not to focus on what happened the night of the murders, but why it happened, and this is the question jurors will be asking themselves for the remainder of the trial.

“Sanity is a different animal,” Johnson said during opening statements Monday, briefly reviewing the proceedings.

Deputy District Attorney Amanda Zambor also kept her opening remarks brief, thanking jurors for their time and effort in the lengthy trial.

“Heinous crime does not equal insane,” she said. “Mental illness does not equal insane.”

Although Zambor agreed Marsh had major depressive disorder, she said there is no evidence of psychosis, delusions, or a “dissociate state,” which Johnson’s defense hinged upon.

“There is no causal link between depression and whether he was capable of understanding his actions,” she said.

“He was well organized and had a specific plan on how to commit the murders.”

In particular, Zambor noted Marsh’s use of gloves and the duct-tape on the bottom of his shoes — both forensic countermeasures used to leave no trance behind for investigators to follow. He also hid the knife, cleaning it off after the crime, and decided he would use a different weapon for the next murder, to help avoid arrest.

“All those steps before hand show he knew what he was doing,” she concluded.

Moving forward with the trial, Johnson called defense expert James Merikangas, a Maryland-based neurologist and psychiatrist, who expanded on his prior testimony.

During the guilt phase of the proceedings, Merikangas told jurors Marsh was in a “dissociative” or “dream-like” state when he committed the murders, resulting from Marsh’s continued use of antidepressants.

“It is like they are floating,” he said. “They are seeing themselves doing something they cannot control. The brain is being overwhelmed by emotions, wanting to be somewhere else.”

On Monday, Merikangas reviewed an MRI scan of Marsh’s brain, pointing out abnormalities.

“It looks like a brain of someone who is more my age,” said Merikangas, who is in his late 50s. “There is too much space in the brain for a 17 year old.”

Specifically, when a person ages, they begin to lose brain cells and tissue, which shows up as dark spaces in the MRI image.

“There is a change in volume in his brain compared to a normal 17 year old,” Merikangas said.

According to Merikangas, these abnormalities could be caused by abusing alcohol and marijuana, or could result at birth. Regardless of the source, these abnormalities may have contributed to Marsh’s depression.

“People with brain abnormalities are more likely to suffer from mental illness in general,” he said. “Their brain impairs their thinking, emotions, and impulse control.”

Turning back to the antidepressants, Merikangas admitted side effects were not the “sole cause” of Marsh’s actions, but definitely made his condition worse, increasing the risk of “intrusive, violent thoughts” leading to “seething anger and feelings of hopelessness.”

Changes made in the brain by the SSRI class of antidepressants can remain for weeks and have been known to cause homicidal thoughts in patients, Merikangas said.

“It’s not a standard thing, it’s not a common thing, but it is a thing that happens,” he added. “He could not overcome the thoughts he was having. I think he felt he was doing the moral thing at the time.”

Assistant Chief Deputy District Attorney Michael Cabral declined to cross examine the witness, whom he spent hours questioning in the guilt phase of the trial.

Closing arguments will begin at 9 a.m. on Tuesday in Department 3, after which the case will once again be in the jury’s hands.

Source: Sarah Dowling Daily Democrat

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Psychiatric expert claims Davis youth’s murderous violence was a side effect of drugs – the Trial Diaries

Daniel Marsh’s medications were ineffective in treating his depression, leading to aggression, suicidal thoughts, and homicidal behavior.

Echoing Public Defender Ron Johnson’s opening statement, James Merikangas, a Maryland-based neurologist and psychiatrist said side effects from antidepressants played a significant role in the murders of Oliver ‘Chip’ Northup, 87, and Claudia Maupin, 76, who were stabbed to death in their Davis condominium in April 2013.

“The side-effects could remain for months,” Merikangas told Johnson during trial testimony Monday, noting this class of antidepressants, known as SSRIs, alter brain chemistry.

Marsh, 17, is charged with both murders and faces enhancements for lying in wait and torture. He pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity on June 2, allowing a continuance of the long-awaited trial. Though Marsh was 15 at the time of his arrest, he is being tried as an adult.

Prosecutors rested their case last week, showing jurors a five-hour videotaped interview of Marsh, in which he described the details of the murders to Davis police and FBI agents.

“It was finally happening,” Marsh said in the recording. “It was like an out-of-body experience. It didn’t feel like I was there, that it was real.”

Merikangas described this “out-of-body” feeling as a dissociative episode, in which a person is not in control of their body.

Psychiatric expert claims Davis youth’s murderous violence was a side effect of drugs
Davis youth’s meds were ineffective in treating depression

Daniel Marsh’s medications were ineffective in treating his depression, leading to aggression, suicidal thoughts, and homicidal behavior.

Echoing Public Defender Ron Johnson’s opening statement, James Merikangas, a Maryland-based neurologist and psychiatrist said side effects from antidepressants played a significant role in the murders of Oliver ‘Chip’ Northup, 87, and Claudia Maupin, 76, who were stabbed to death in their Davis condominium in April 2013.

“The side-effects could remain for months,” Merikangas told Johnson during trial testimony Monday, noting this class of antidepressants, known as SSRIs, alter brain chemistry.

Marsh, 17, is charged with both murders and faces enhancements for lying in wait and torture. He pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity on June 2, allowing a continuance of the long-awaited trial. Though Marsh was 15 at the time of his arrest, he is being tried as an adult.

Prosecutors rested their case last week, showing jurors a five-hour videotaped interview of Marsh, in which he described the details of the murders to Davis police and FBI agents.

“It was finally happening,” Marsh said in the recording. “It was like an out-of-body experience. It didn’t feel like I was there, that it was real.”

Merikangas described this “out-of-body” feeling as a dissociative episode, in which a person is not in control of their body.

“It is like they are floating,” he said. “They are seeing themselves doing something they cannot control.”

In reviewing Marsh’s medical records, Merikangas noted Marsh’s history of dissociative episodes, which he further described as “intrusive thoughts” Marsh could not control, similar to compulsions.

When Marsh entered the couple’s home, stabbing them in their sleep, it was “a release of that agonizing pressure, pressure that he complained about for years,” Merikangas said. He attributed Marsh’s euphoric state to this effect following the murders.

In reviewing medical records, Merikangas agreed with an earlier diagnosis of depression, which led to Marsh’s anorexia, anxiety, and other issues. Depression, according to Merikangas, is “a condition that tends to get better with time” and medications are not always necessary.

During cross examination, Assistant Chief Deputy District Attorney Michael Cabral asked about this statement, prompting Merikangas to elaborate further.

“Most depression tends to get better, but there needs to be some form of intervention,” Merikangas said. “Some get better, some get treatment, and some kill themselves.”

Throughout his testimony, Merikangas spoke to the negligence of numerous therapists and physicians, who should have taken Marsh off of Prozac, a medication he rarely prescribes himself.

“I’ve had patients who after one tablet of Prozac had to be hospitalized,” he said before describing the overall ineffectiveness of the drug, which is still the most widely prescribed antidepressant in the U.S.

“There is no significant difference between drugs like Prozac and sugar pills,” Merikangas said, citing a research study. “The expectation that you are going to get better by taking a pill is the most powerful thing.”

James Rokop and Deborah Schmidt combed through Marsh’s medical history, interviewing him for hours and coming to similar conclusions, both ruling out psychosis as playing a part in the crime.

Based on Marsh’s level of planning, Schmidt categorized the murders as “predatory aggression,” noting the teen knew what he was doing, and was aware it was wrong. People who are psychotic kill in response to perceived threats, Schmidt added.

Merikangas, who reviewed the same medical records and interviewed Marsh on three separate occasions, came to a different conclusion.

“This is a case of a teen being afflicted by intrusive, compulsive thoughts of harming someone,” he said. “He has a dissociative episode, and he was acting as if he was in a dream. He thought he was in a dream until the reality set in.”

Merikangas questioned the analyses, disagreeing with Rokop and Schmidt’s diagnosis of antisocial personality disorder, stating Marsh suffered from nothing more than severe depression.

Along with Marsh’s history, Merikangas has reviewed current medical documents from the Juvenile Hall, after Marsh was weaned off of Zoloft, yet another SSRI.

“He is much better since being taken off the drugs,” he said.

The trial will continue Tuesday morning in Department 3

Source: Sarah Dowling The Daily Democrat

 

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Davis teen Daniel Marsh gets 52 years to life for slaying elderly couple | The Sacramento Bee

Teenager Daniel Marsh was sentenced Friday to 52 years to life for brutally murdering an elderly couple in their south Davis home last year.