Suspect in Christmas 2010 killings is found not guilty by reason of insanity

The ruling means he will go to a mental health facility after murder trial that's called unusual and tragic

nwilson@thetribunenews.comFebruary 6, 2012 

Calling it a highly unusual case, San Luis Obispo Superior Court Judge John Trice ruled Monday that North County double homicide suspect Andrew Downs was not guilty by reason of insanity.

The decision means Downs will be sent to a mental health facility for treatment instead of state prison for the killings of sisters Beverly Reilly and Kathy Yeager at Santa Margarita Ranch, as well as the attempted murder of Glen Johnson of Atascadero.

Downs, a schizophrenic, didn’t know right from wrong when he shot and killed Yeager and Reilly on Christmas Day 2010, Trice ruled.

“Andrew Downs did not ask for this,” Trice said. “It was a terrible, terrible tragic event.”

Downs’ trial concluded with hugs and exchanges of sorrow among the families involved.

Defense attorney Matthew Guerrero called the case the most “serious and saddest” he has ever worked on.

“There were no winners, no victories in this case,” Guerrero said. “It’s extremely sad.”

Trice referred to the case as one that “shocked” San Luis Obispo County and revealed aspects of a mental health system that’s broken.

The judge called the legally mandated mental health holds that allow authorities to detain people in a mental health facility for 72 hours if they’re a danger to themselves or others “a revolving door” for some.

Downs had been hospitalized several times in the months leading up to the shootings, including mental health holds.

On Christmas Day 2010, Downs believed that a government takeover was in progress and suspected that the police, the military and aliens were involved, doctors testified during the trial.

Guerrero cited the determinations of two doctors, one requested by the defense and one by the prosecution, who came to the same conclusion that Downs was legally insane.

San Luis Obispo County Deputy District Attorney Dave Pomeroy argued for a prison term, saying that Downs’ daily use of marijuana leading up to the shootings played a role and that, even with his delusions, Downs could have chosen to avoid killing someone.

Trice said that while people might falsely believe tricky lawyer work might be a factor in keeping somebody like Downs out of prison, less than 1 percent of cases in the judicial system involve pleas of not guilty by reason of insanity, and a quarter of those actually result in an insanity ruling.

Dr. Kris Mohandie examined Downs at the request of the prosecution. Of the 14 cases involving such pleas that Mohandie had previously worked on, he’d found defendants sane in each one, he testified during trial.

Downs had experienced symptoms of psychosis in high school, and his parents saw signs of mental illness dating back to fifth grade, according to evidence presented at trial.

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