Wednesday, March 3, 2010
A Vancouver man was legally insane when he stabbed his sister to death because he believed she was Satan, a judge has ruled.
Michael Schuurmans, 48, didn’t understand right from wrong when he lapsed into a psychotic break, believing he was God and his sister was the devil, Clark County Superior Court Judge Robert Lewis said.
“It was clear at the time of the crime that he was acting on something he thought was right,” Lewis said.
After a two-day hearing, the judge made his ruling late Tuesday, acquitting Schuurmans of first-degree murder.
A decision on Schuurmans’ future is set for March 22.
Lewis must answer a series of questions to determine whether to commit him to Western State Hospital near Tacoma: Does Schuurmans pose a substantial danger to the community unless confined? Or is it better for the community and Schuurmans if he’s in a less restrictive environment?
Schuurmans has been in custody since the Feb. 28, 2009, slaying of Shirry L. Dohman-Rice, 53, at their home on Memphis Way in the McLoughlin Heights area.
During this week’s hearing, family members testified that Schuurmans’ bipolar disorder had become progressively worse over the past few years. It was marked by a delusion that he was religiously anointed and receiving messages from the universe through the TV and media.
His delusions worsened to the point that he likened himself to Jesus Christ, saying a month before the murder that he would die and be resurrected, family members said.
He eventually believed the Apocalypse was under way and that he was required to kill the “beast,” whom he thought had inhabited his sister, to protect the world, defense attorney Tom Phelan said.
All the doctors at Western State Hospital who evaluated Schuurmans agreed he was legally insane at the time the slaying was committed, when he wasn’t taking medication prescribed for his psychosis.
Deputy Prosecutor Tonya Riddell had tried to argue the attack was the result of rising tension between siblings as they cared for their elderly mother. There was evidence, she added, he didn’t actually believe his sister was the devil.
The judge didn’t agree, saying it seemed clear by the defendant’s own statements that “he thought he had to remove the beast either inside his sister or who was his sister.”
“Morally, it was wrong. No one is suggesting it wasn’t wrong,” Lewis said. “I am deciding whether he was insane at the exact time” the murder was committed.
Insanity acquittals are rare. mainly because of the state’s narrow definition of the law. Attorneys must either prove the defendant had an inability to appreciate his actions and didn’t understand right from wrong.
Laura McVicker: 360-735-4516 or firstname.lastname@example.org.