Man who killed wife with hammer considered ‘thou shalt not kill,’ psychologist testifies at sanity trial

Kenneth Cockrell
Kenneth Cockrell dmiddlecamp@thetribunenews.com

A forensic psychologist testified Wednesday that an Atascadero man who killed his wife, later saying he had sacrificed her to God, was legally sane at the time.

Dr. Kris Mohandie testified for the prosecution in Kenneth Cockrell’s sanity trial before Judge Barry LaBarbera in San Luis Obispo Superior court.

Mohandie testified that Cockrell had internally debated his moral standing moments before the killing.

Cockrell, 68, bludgeoned his wife, Margaret “Peggy” Cockrell, with a hammer on March 23, 2008, which was Easter Sunday.

Cockrell, a Pentecostal fundamentalist, later told police that a voice in his head told him it was part of God’s plan.

Mohandie’s expert opinion makes him the only one of five doctors to determine that Cockrell was legally sane. Four others found him legally insane.

The sanity trial will determine whether Cockrell is committed to a state mental-health facility or sentenced to prison.While acknowledging that Cockrell suffered from some form of psychotic thinking, Mohandie testified that Cockrell had an internal moral struggle.

“My opinion is that he was not incapable of appreciating his moral wrongfulness,” Mohandie said.

While hearing a voice, Cockrell’s reflections shortly before the killing also recalled the commandment “thou shalt not kill,” Mohandie said.

Mohandie conducted a five-hour interview as well as a psychological exam with Cockrell in April.

“I don’t think he was fully convinced he was doing God’s will,” Mohandie testified. “I believe he was not of one mind that killing her was right.”

While Cockrell said he thought he’d done the right thing by killing Peggy Cockrell, “other people would see it as a wrong,” Mohandie said.

Mohandie also testified that Cockrell feared Peggy Cockrell’s family members would hurt him if they found her body.During questioning from prosecutor Matt Kraut, Mohandie testified that Cockrell admitted to hitting his first wife one time to “make her go away.” Peggy Cockrell was his third wife.

The psychologist also said Kenneth Cockrell’s drug use in 1972, including taking LSD, led to a “religious epiphany” that included hearing voices at that time.

During cross-examination, defense attorney Guy Galambos asked about the significance of a passion play that Cockrell saw with his wife in Bakersfield the night before the killing.

Mohandie acknowledged that the play — about the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ — made a big impression on Cockrell, who didn’t have television or the Internet at his home.

Mohandie said that the defendant also told him he had a “hope” that Peggy Cockrell would be resurrected.

Galambos focused on Cockrell’s statement that he “thought he was doing the right thing” by killing her — implying that he didn’t have moral awareness.

The doctor also testified, during Galambos’ questioning, that Cockrell said that he never previously hurt Peggy Cockrell and killed her as a sacrifice because she was “the best of the best.”

The trial continues at 8 a.m. today.