Jurors begin deliberating Santa Rosa killer's sanity
Published: Monday, May 20, 2013 at 4:36 p.m.
Last Modified: Monday, May 20, 2013 at 4:36 p.m.
After its medical expert landed in the minority over whether 22-year-old Houston Herczog was insane at the time he stabbed his father at least 60 times, killing him, the prosecution on Monday changed course, urging jurors to disregard doctors and rely instead on their own observations in determining the Santa Rosa man's mental state.
Prosecutor Bob Waner suggested the experts — including one paid for by the District Attorney's Office — were not infallible and told the jurors they were best-suited to make a finding.
“What's it look like to kill your father?” Waner said in his closing argument. “I don't know. Neither do these doctors.”
But Herczog's lawyer, Karen Silver, countered it would be unreasonable to overlook the opinions of three out of four psychiatrists who determined Herczog suffered paranoid schizophrenia in the 2011 slaying.
She repeated her attack on the prosecution's expert, Dr. James Missett, suggesting the holdout was either mistaken, incompetent or lying in concluding Herczog was not impaired.
“There's no way I would think I have better judgment that these three doctors,” Silver said. “This was a psychotic killing.”
The comments came at the end of the second phase of Herczog's trial in which they are to determine if he was insane when he stabbed to death Mark Herczog, 63, in the kitchen of their Rincon Valley home. Herczog was found guilty of first-degree murder in the earlier guilt phase.
Now, jurors must determine if he was suffering a mental disorder that affected his ability to understand the nature of his acts or his ability to judge right from wrong. He could be found not guilty by reason of insanity and sent to a mental hospital.
If the panel decides he killed his father in a drug-induced rage but was otherwise sane, he'll go to prison for the rest of his life.
The two sides have been jousting over the sanity issue since testimony in the guilt phase began three weeks ago.
In the sanity portion, Herczog's lawyer called three doctors — two appointed by a judge and one selected by the defense — who testified that the 2009 Santa Rosa High graduate was suffering hallucinations that his father was an evil force and hearing voices telling him to kill him when he attacked him in the kitchen of their home.
Mark Herczog was stabbed mostly in the face and neck before being bludgeoned with a heavy guitar amplifier. An autopsy found slash wounds across his throat that the defense argued were consistent with someone trying to cut a person's head off.
Silver argued Houston Herczog was trying to perform an exorcism. “This was not a normal killing,” she said Monday. “He tried to saw off his father's head.”
However, prosecutors said the son was merely angry after being confronted by his father about his drug use. Herczog had been stealing a prescription stimulant from his mother that is known to cause irritation and aggression.
Waner suggested Herczog concocted stories about his sanity months later to avoid being sent to prison. He pointed to a police interrogation video made the night of the killing which he said showed Herczog behaving normally.
Silver argued the opposite interpretation of the recording, saying he appeared to be placing sofa cushions to his ears to block voices in his head. Herczog's family also testified to his bizarre behavior in the months leading up to the killing and attempts to get treatment.
They have criticized the District Attorney's Office for pursuing a criminal case against someone they say is obviously mentally ill.
As Waner made his closing argument Monday, Herczog's mother, Marilyn Herczog of Forestville, blurted out, “I can't listen to this anymore,” before leaving the courtroom gallery.
She was arrested in an earlier portion of the trial after deputies said she held up a picture of her son in court in an apparent act of civil disobedience.
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