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Atascadero man's behavior days before killing called normal

An Atascadero man who killed his wife in 2008 behaved normally at a family member’s Las Vegas wedding a week before the murder, according to testimony presented Friday.

The fifth day of evidence presented in San Luis Obispo Superior Court in the sanity trial of Kenneth Cockrell included testimony by the defendant’s stepson, David Landrum.

Landrum, who got married days before the murder, testified that Cockrell and his mother, Margaret “Peggy” Cockrell, were among the guests at the event. His stepdad “seemed fine” and wasn’t acting abnormally, he testified.

Kenneth Cockrell, 68, showed no signs of mental illness or that he was hearing voices at the event, which psychologists have testified he was experiencing at the time of the murder.

Through his plea of not guilty by reason of insanity, Cockrell has admitted to murdering his wife with a hammer on March 23, 2008, which was also Easter Sunday.

But Cockrell’s lawyer, Guy Galambos, is arguing that his client didn’t know he was morally wrong in his actions, citing doctors who have testified that Cockrell believed he was completing God’s plan by sacrificing his wife.

Galambos has the burden of proving to Judge Barry LaBarbera that his client was more likely than not insane when he committed the killing.

LaBarbera’s ruling at the end of the trial will determine whether Cockrell is sent to state prison or a mental health institution.Landrum testified that he had known Cockrell for about 30 years, since he was about 9 or 10 years old.

Landrum said that his stepfather, a Pentecostal fundamentalist, was not acting much different at the time of the wedding than the man he’d known most of his life.

“He congratulated us on getting married,” Landrum said. “He was calm, laughing, joking. He was talking to others at the table.”

Landrum testified that he noticed Cockrell became upset when a photographer touched Peggy Cockrell’s elbow to shift her into position for a wedding shoot.

Landrum, who works in Atascadero, also testified he saw Cockrell driving on the afternoon of the killing.

Landrum waved but Cockrell didn’t acknowledge him or wave back. He later learned Cockrell was on his way to the police station to turn himself in.

The trial is scheduled to resume Wednesday and likely will wrap up Thursday.

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