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, didnt 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. Its extremely sad.
Trice referred to the case as one that shocked San Luis Obispo County and revealed aspects of a mental health system thats 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 theyre 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, hed 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.