Murder suspect Andrew Downs thought victims were part of an evil conspiracy, psychiatrist testifies

Andrew Downs, 20, of Atascadero was arrested Sunday, Dec. 26, 2010, on suspicion of murder. Original story »
Andrew Downs, 20, of Atascadero was arrested Sunday, Dec. 26, 2010, on suspicion of murder. Original story »

Murder suspect Andrew Wesley Downs shot and killed two sisters in Santa Margarita last year because he thought they were military officers who were part of an evil government conspiracy against the world, a forensic psychiatrist testified Monday in San Luis Obispo Superior Court.

Dr. Charles Scott took the stand on the first day of a trial to determine whether Downs was insane at the time he shot and killed sisters Beverly Reilly and Kathy Yeager in Santa Margarita on Christmas Day 2010.

If Judge John Trice rules that Downs, who’s now 21, was insane at the time of the killings, then he would be committed to a state mental health facility. If not, then Downs would be sentenced to state prison.

While admitting Downs’ responsibility for the shootings, his attorney, Matthew Guerrero, is arguing that his client, a diagnosed schizophrenic, wasn’t aware of the nature of his actions and didn’t know right from wrong.

Guerrero is making the same argument for Downs’ attempted murder of Atascadero resident Glen Johnson, whom Downs allegedly beat with a wrench hours after the shootings.

Johnson was a family friend who had a military background, and that’s why Downs tried to attack him, Scott said.

But Downs first went to the home where Reilly and Yeager were staying with the intent to kill evil military officers stationed there and avoid oncoming “nuclear snow” by getting inside, Scott testified that Downs told him.

Scott, a forensic psychiatrist and UC Davis professor, testified that Downs told him during an interview that he believed he was fighting for his survival against a government takeover by police and the Army that had already killed millions.

Scott also testified that Downs had a well-documented history of mental illness, which included episodes in 2010 where Downs was found outside his home naked; sleeping in a barn; telling friends that aliens had started to kill people and families; telling people that half of Atascadero was dead; and saying that the end of the world was coming.

Scott testified that Downs told him he took his parents’ car and rifle to wage his war against the hostile military on Christmas Day 2010.

Downs crashed the vehicle near the rural Santa Margarita home where the sisters had been staying during the holidays, he told Scott. Downs then lay in a stream and hid in a nearby field for several hours, partially naked by the time he knocked at the door of the Santa Margarita home, shooting to kill.

San Luis Obispo County Deputy District Attorney David Pomeroy asked Scott during cross-examination about Downs’ daily marijuana use leading up to the killings and the possibility that he was a person with a disability who might have reacted badly to crashing a car.

Scott, however, said that he believed Downs’ psychotic behavior drove his actions.

Scott said Downs told him he hadn’t taken medication for his schizophrenia for several months and previous attempts to medicate him were unsuccessful.

Downs had been recommended by a doctor for medical marijuana for his schizophrenia, as well as an intestinal condition.

Pomeroy also questioned Scott about the possibility that Downs might have taken mushrooms or another hallucinogen that didn’t show up in any blood testing.

But Scott said Downs had exhibited psychotic behavior for months, even before his marijuana use began.

Scott also noted a fixation that Downs had with movie plots depicting the protagonist’s good fight against evil, including the Harry Potter book and movie series and “Star Wars.”

The trial resumes at 10:30 a.m. today in Trice’s courtroom.