Witness: Paso Robles murder defendant is 'severely psychotic'

Next phase of trial begins for convicted man who says he heard voices during a stabbing

ppemberton@thetribunenews.comNovember 26, 2012 

During his police interrogation, a San Jose man charged with fatally stabbing a stranger at the Paso Robles Laundromat made 45 psychotic statements, a witness for the defense testified Monday.

“He clearly appeared to be devastated by what had happened,” testified Thomas Middleton, a psychologist hired to testify on behalf of John F. Woody Jr.

Woody, 30, was convicted earlier this month of first-degree murder in the March 6, 2011, stabbing of Martin McWilliams, 46, of Paso Robles.

In the second phase of his trial, which began Monday, the burden is on the defense to show that Woody was legally insane when the crime occurred. When the trial concludes — possibly by the end of the week — Superior Court Judge Michael Duffy will render the verdict.

If Woody is found to be legally insane, he will be assigned to a state prison for offenders with mental disorders rather than be put in a prison.

Psychiatric witnesses in this phase will expand on testimony they offered during the first phase.

On Monday, Middleton took the stand to testify that Woody was in a “dissociative fugue” state when the crime occurred. People in fugue states — usually triggered by emotional or physical trauma — have been known to experience amnesia, take on new identities or travel long distances from their homes.

Middleton thinks Woody entered a fugue state in San Jose after confronting a delusion — that the daughter he thought he had did not exist. He took off for Mexico but wound up in Paso Robles, where he ran out of gas.

Woody, diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder, was first treated for a mental disorder in 2003, Middleton said.

“In all likelihood, his symptoms were emerging during his teenage years,” Middleton testified, adding that Woody had been “severely psychotic” since 2007.

The night he killed McWilliams, he said, Woody was in a fugue state and hearing threatening voices.

“In a psychotic sense, he simply wanted the voices to stop,” Middleton said.

While questioning Middleton, Deputy District Attorney Matt Kerrigan suggested that Woody acted deliberately when he surprised McWilliams with the knife, fled from the scene and later tried to call a bank to get money. And he asked whether Woody was in a fugue state, given that no other psychiatric witnesses noted the possibility of a fugue in their evaluations.

Once police apprehended him, Kerrigan noted, Woody said he needed to go to jail.

“It’s an awareness that he knows he’s done something wrong, correct?” Kerrigan asked Middleton.

But Middleton said Woody’s actions were a disorganized reaction to the voices.

Woody’s interview with Paso Robles police Detective Michael Rickerd included several bizarre statements that Middleton said were consistent with a psychotic state of mind.

Even after the stabbing, Middleton said, Woody continued to be tormented by his mental illness.

“It killed the victim, but it did not stop the voices,” Middleton said.

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