A second psychologist testified in a murder case Thursday that an Atascadero man didn’t understand it was morally wrong to kill his wife, though he knew he was breaking the law.
Kenneth Cockrell thought he was doing God’s will and compared his situation to an Old Testament story when he killed his wife, Margaret “Peggy” Cockrell, Brandi Mathews testified in San Luis Obispo Superior Court.
On Wednesday, another court-appointed psychologist, Emily Wisniewski, testified that she believed Cockrell didn’t know he was morally wrong when he struck his wife.
Cockrell has admitted his responsibility for beating his wife to death with a hammer while she was napping at their home on the 9000 block of La Linia Avenue on March 23, 2008.
Digital Access for only $0.99
For the most comprehensive local coverage, subscribe today.
But he has pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity, and the trial will determine whether he’s committed to a mental health facility or sentenced to state prison for 31 years to life.
Mathews conducted an interview in January 2011 with Cockrell. She said that Cockrell drew from the biblical story of Abraham.
According to the Old Testament tale, God commanded Abraham to kill his own son, Isaac, as a test of his faith before stopping him at the last moment.
Hearing voiced commands in his head, Cockrell carried through with the killing of his wife, thinking it was God’s plan, Mathews said.
“He believed that sacrificing his wife was a test of his faithfulness,” Mathews said. “He compared his situation multiple times to Abraham and Isaac.”
Mathews also said that Cockrell thought his wife was the “best of the best” but that the world would be a better place if she were sacrificed.
When Mathews followed up with a question about how the world would be a better place, he responded, “I don’t know.”
But prosecutor Matt Kraut has pointed to several indicators, from the police investigation to examinations by doctors, of Cockrell’s moral awareness.
Kraut pointed out that Cockrell hadn’t sought help for any mental illness, though he sought counseling for marital issues many years ago.
He also cited a previous statement Cockrell made during a psychological evaluation that he’d started hearing voices in the 1970s after taking LSD.
Cockrell made no mention of hearing voices until eight days after the incident, when he spoke with forensic psychiatrist David Fennell, Kraut said during Thursday’s testimony.
Cockrell also had a tapestry in his home, photographed by police, of the Ten Commandments, which included “Thou shalt not kill.” But Mathews testified that God’s supreme power overrode that commandment in Cockrell’s mind.
Kraut also questioned Mathews about domestic violence in Cockrell’s first marriage. Peggy Cockrell was his third wife.
Cockrell acknowledged having verbal exchanges and physical violence in his first marriage, but he gave curt answers without specifics, and he was never arrested for any incident, Mathews said.
Kraut also probed Mathews about an internal battle Cockrell said he was having before killing his wife.
He had mixed emotions about the voices in his head, and the idea of killing his wife brought inner turmoil, Mathews said.
“Due to his delusions and hallucinations, but with belief of God’s supreme authority, he felt morally justified (in the killing),” Mathews said.
The trial continues today at 10:30 a.m. before Judge Barry LaBarbera.