Expert describes Downs’ erratic behavior before Christmas shootings

The Atascadero man charged with killing two sisters in Santa Margarita on Christmas Day in 2010 was in a psychotic state that day, according to a psychiatrist who testified Tuesday in San Luis Obispo Superior Court.

At the time, according to the testimony, Andrew Wesley Downs thought his mother and sister had been taken over by aliens and was hoping to find his innocent friend, Michael, during a governmental military takeover of the world.

Downs, 21, appeared in court Tuesday for the second day of a trial to determine his sanity at the time of the alleged offense.

Downs has pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity.

Defense attorney Matthew Guerrero is arguing that Downs didn’t know right from wrong or the nature of his actions when he killed Beverly Reilly and Kathy Yeager.

Guerrero has the burden of proof to show that Downs was insane at the time of the shootings as well as during the subsequent attempted killing of Atascadero resident Glen Johnson. Deputy District Attorney David Pomeroy spent much of the morning Tuesday cross-examining forensic psychiatrist Charles Scott, who testified on behalf of the defense Monday and Tuesday. Pomeroy asked Scott whether Downs’ admitted daily use of about an eighth of an ounce of marijuana, until the day before the shootings, could have contributed to his anxiety.

Scott replied that it’s possible. Scott also said he wouldn’t recommend prescribing medical marijuana to someone with schizophrenia, like Downs. Downs had a doctor’s recommendation for the drug to treat his mental illness and an intestinal condition.

But Scott also said Monday that Downs was showing extreme behavior months before he smoked pot. He started sentences in the form of “I and I” and “we and we” and look to see whether people’s clothes were made in Bangladesh to see whether they were doomed, Scott said.

Scott testified that on the day of the shootings, Downs thought “no innocent civilians” were left except for his friend Michael and that he associated the sisters with the military conspiracy.

Michael might have been an actual acquaintance of Downs’ at a tobacco shop in Atascadero, but Scott said Downs had significant difficulty in distinguishing reality from fantasy.

Pomeroy questioned Scott about Downs’ rationale to leave the home after the shootings when he tried to drive off in several vehicles on the property before eventually getting away — and whether it was a decision to avoid responsibility for the crimes.

Scott testified that Downs was trying to find Michael and he may have worried that a man who escaped from the home after the killings might tell fellow conspirators to look for Downs.

The man he was referencing is Dennis Reilly, who fled for his life, chased at one point by Downs.An insanity ruling by Judge John Trice would commit Downs to a mental health facility. If Trice rules he was sane, Downs would be sentenced to state prison.