Commentary: Book Paints Daniel Marsh Killing in Most Sensational Light

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Lloyd Billingsley discusses his book “Exceptional Depravity” and the Danial Marsh case at the Blanchard Room of the Davis Public Library on Friday

When Lloyd Billingsley wrote an op-ed back in late September following the trial of Daniel Marsh, it was stunning to read such an overly-sensational column that likened Daniel Marsh to a “superpredator” and suggested a “Maupin’s Law” to prevent such convicted juveniles from being eligible for parole.

So when this week Mr. Billingsley published a column in the Sacramento Bee and had a promotional article in the Davis Enterprise, it seemed like a good idea to watch his talk in promotion of his book.

Perhaps one of the more interesting disconnects is between the sensational title of his book – “Exceptional Depravity” in bold red letters in a font that mimics handwriting, with the almost childish subtitle that seems to mock the perpetrator, “Dan Who Likes Dark and Double Murder in Davis, California” – and his claimed reason for writing it.

He began his talk as describing the victims and the age of the victims, who were in his parents’ generation. He described Mr. Northup, a noted attorney, in heroic terms, both as a person and as an attorney. He told the group, “This is someone’s great-grandfather, someone’s grandfather, someone’s father.” He then described how painful the natural death of his own father was in his life.

But if that is the purpose of the book, it clearly loses its focus as Mr. Billingsley in his talk described the killing in graphic terms, each time punctuating his very dramatic talk with a rejoinder, “I didn’t make this up people,” to which I kept thinking, perhaps, but you can certainly cherry-pick it and distort it.

The cover of his forthcoming hardback book as shown on a promotional flier
The cover of his forthcoming hardback book as shown on a promotional flier

Mr. Billingsley’s style is enthralling. I listened riveted as he spoke, describing the case in ways that make the term “sensational” actually far too mild.

The book title, “Exceptional Depravity,” is taken from the original charging document that alleged the murders “were committed in a way that manifested exceptional depravity.”

Throughout his talk, he played up the prosecution’s case against the stated defense. He mocked, if not slandered, the defense experts – in particular Dr. Merikangas, a world-renowned psychiatrist and neurologist from Bethesda, Maryland.

“The big gun is this defense witness, this James Merikangas,” Mr. Billingsley began. “Probably the most high profile expert witness in the country.”

“This guy is $1000 per hour,” he says. “They pay him $25,000 in this case.”

“His pitch was [that] an abscess of brain damage, mental illness, and medication side effects put Daniel Marsh into a dreamlike dissociative state in which he didn’t know the difference between right and wrong. Therefore [he] should be acquitted.”

He continued, “This guy is under oath,” he laid out the doctor’s credentials, and then said the doctor stated, “Daniel Marsh was born two months premature.”

“In his re-direct, [the prosecutor] brings out all of the birth records for Daniel Marsh, he reads it out, ‘full term no need of resuscitation’ – so what this guy said was kind of wrong, you know,” Mr. Billingsley stated. “It was kind of like false. He says Marsh has brain damage, so [Prosecutor] Cabral brings Eric Mitchell, radiologist… done thousands of MRIs. Said he found no abnormalities in Daniel Marsh.”

Merikangas was questioned more by DDA Cabral about Daniel’s “dreamlike state.” Cabral asked, “So when do you think Daniel began his dreamlike state, was it after he stole the mask, after he sharpened the knife?”

“I don’t know, he doesn’t know, do not know the timing,” asserted the doctor.

Mr. Billingsley, citing Mr. Cabral, stated, “Then after these murders, when Daniel Marsh was in school and he nudges his friend, he says, hey I made the newspaper, was he in the dreamlike state then?  Key moment in the trial.”  He added, “He couldn’t say, the expert, he just couldn’t say.”

“Just so you know depression meds, they don’t cause someone to eviscerate someone and a put a cellphone inside the body to throw off the cops,” he said.  “Just so you know.”

“This Merikangas, he made himself look like a fool.  But he wins, because he gets his fee,” Mr. Billingsley stated.  He said, “There will be no perjury charges… That’s something that maybe we ought to talk about.  That was false information.”

In rejecting the defense claims that a combination of factors were involved, Mr. Billingsley misstated the testimony of Dr. Merikangas who had explained that Daniel suffers from manic depressive disorder, dissociative disorder, de-personalization and anorexia nervosa.

About 15 people ended up attending the afternoon talk
About 15 people ended up attending the afternoon talk

Dr. Merikangas explained that the psychologists were not qualified to give an accurate assessment of Daniel. “They are not medical doctors, they did not examine his brain, his physical body or talk with him enough to know what was going on with him, and his psychiatrist just kept prescribing more meds,” stated the doctor.

Dr. Merikangas stated that he would never have mixed Wellbutrin with Zoloft because they have the same side effects. “It is just wrong to give it with other meds, I would not have continued meds, you need to find out what’s going on,” asserted the doctor.  He explained that Zoloft is 17 times more likely to cause increased aggression in children than in adults, causing them to become more violent.

Lloyd Billingsley rejected the defense explanation of insanity. In fact, he mocked it. He argued that taking anti-depressant drugs is not tied to reading books about serial killers. Mr. Billingsley stated, “He liked them, he admired the way they escaped capture,” he said.

He then cited from testimony, “You know this guy researched serial killers, I’m not aware of any research showing Zoloft causes people to research serial killers.” He quipped, “That was a key moment in the trial.”

Instead of insanity, he came to the conclusion that Daniel Marsh killed the elderly couple because he enjoyed it – which, while it made for good theatrics, falls short of an explanation.

He simply brackets the “enjoyment” hypothesis as though that were the root cause, without questioning why he obtained enjoyment from inflicting harm on others and without questioning or discussing whether that underlying cause was in the range of “normal” or whether that cause was itself a symptom of something deeper, rather than the bottom line explanation as he portrayed it.

Mr. Billingsley proved to be a riveting speaker
Mr. Billingsley proved to be a riveting speaker

One of the themes Mr. Billingsley presented was also one he raised in his interview with the Enterprise: “There was this idea that Marsh, because he was young, was somehow a victim of the system. His lapses were linked to other people’s failures.”

Part of what was missing from Mr. Billingsley’s account is an acknowledgement that Daniel Marsh was 15 years old when he committed these crimes. So the idea that the community might look at the adults who are supposed to be watching out for Mr. Marsh’s best interests as a possible underlying problem is not to dismissed as simply as Mr. Billingsley wants to do.

He said that “he was surprised by the level of community sympathy for Marsh.”

I think a lot of people in the community are not simply willing to buy into Mr. Billingsley’s explanation that Daniel Marsh was evil and killed the two because he liked it. Is there some truth to that? Yes, but it’s a simplistic statement that really doesn’t help things.

Is Daniel Marsh an extreme case? Absolutely. Are there other kids who go through what Daniel Marsh went through life and escaped without becoming murderers? Of course.

But that does not mean that Daniel Marsh received the proper care and attention in the months and years leading up to the murders. Yes, he had a huge support network, but there were also breakdowns in that network.

Ultimately, Mr. Billingsley ignores any analysis of this and focuses on the sensational and headline-grabbing soundbites and book title. In so doing, he does a disservice to a very complex issue.

—David M. Greenwald reporting

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About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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21 thoughts on “Commentary: Book Paints Daniel Marsh Killing in Most Sensational Light”

  1. Tia Will

    As a disclaimer, I have not read this book and have no plans to do so. I also fully defend  Mr.Billingsley’s constitutional right to express his views publicly in the form of a book, just as I defended the right of the Westboro Baptist Church to publicly spew their particular form of venom. However, from the information presented here, I will also exercise my right to state my opinion on this kind of speech.

    Mr. Billingsley is using a tragedy for nothing more than his own enrichment. As such he dishonors the victims, who from everything I have heard about them were a caring, compassionate couple with a long history of positive contributions to our community. His glowing words about Mr. Northrup do nothing to mitigate his apparent disrespect for their perspective on the world as it has been portrayed by multiple commenters. This is clearly demonstrated by his comment:

    “He was surprised by the amount of community sympathy for Mr. Marsh”

    Mr. Billingsley seems to represent the epitome of simple minded adherence to the idea of  “good” vs “evil”.  Fortunately for the good of our community there are others, such as the victims in this case, who do not share this harsh and limited view of humanity and also do not share his penchant for manipulation of emotion and debasement of others for financial gain.

  2. Elizabeth Bowler

    “This Marikangas, he made himself look like a fool.  But he wins, because he gets his fee,” Mr. Billingsley stated.  He said, “There will be no perjury charges… That’s something that maybe we ought to talk about.  That was false information.”

    I think that Dr. Merikangas ought to talk about liable and slander charges against Billingsley, who seems to be on quite a campaign against Dr. Merikangas for some reason.

    I find it sickening that someone like Billingsley is profiting financially from this tragedy.   His ignorance of mental illness, the effects of psychiatric medications, and neurodevelopment of the adolescent brain as reported here, is stunning.

     

    1. Tia Will

      Elizabeth

      I find it sickening that someone like Billingsley is profiting financially from this tragedy.”

      I agree completely with your post. It was only after I posted my comment that I noticed that the “knot” in my stomach began to relax. The connection between our emotions and our physiologic processes is a never ending source of amazement to me. Mr. Billingsley on the other hand seems to have a profound understanding of how to manipulate people’s emotions in order to get them to perform his desired action, in this case, to buy his book. Disgusting.

  3. Davis Progressive

    one of the questions i always ask is what training and experience these kinds of evaluations.

    he wrote this in the bee earlier this week:

    “Despite the revelations in the trial, Marsh’s insanity defense gained traction. “Where did the system fail Daniel Marsh?” asked a Sept. 18 editorial in the People’s Vanguard of Davis, arguing that the Davis School District needed more funding for mental health services.

    The trial, however, challenged that contention. Witnesses included two mental health counselors, a school psychologist, a school safety official and a sympathetic special education teacher, among others. Beyond the school system, Marsh was attended by social workers, therapists and psychiatrists. So it’s hard to see how he lacked support in the school and health care systems.”

    so his position is everyone did their job correctly, this was an unavoidable situation, and marsh was a monster and the laws prevent anyone from stopping him?

  4. hpierce

    David and Lloyd have at least one thing in common… there is potentially much to be gained both in publicity and money, under the guise of “transparency”, to promote themselves in keeping this case, and as many details as possible, in the public eye.  Both have now cited the other to ‘stir the pot’.  Which will augment each of their publicity and money.  Both, directly or indirectly, by “readership”.  Hell, they’ve each got me to “bite”.  Except, in Lloyd’s case, I’l look for a “pirated” version of his work to see what he has to say.

    I doubt whether the families involved really want this to be as transparent as David and Lloyd have chosen for their “jollies”.  They are all victims of this charade of “transparency”. Perhaps, as we are.

    1. tj

      Huge difference between David and Lloyd.  The later wants a quick buck at a child’s expense.  David offers a big benefit to our community with substantive news we wouldn’t otherwise be able to get.

      Shame on the Davis Enterprise for promoting Lloyd’s book.  And it’s hard to determine whether Lauren Keene actually attends court hearings or just “reports” what the DA’s office gives her.

      Victoria Hurd is likely enthused about Lloyd’s book, she seems to function on the same level.

      1. sisterhood

        “big benefit to our community with substantive news”

        It is not in the best interest of the community to out people who may want to retain a shred of privacy after a horrific life changing and life ending event.

        I’m not saying David outed anyone but I do not like to read about the family members of Daniel. I wish everyone would leave his loved ones alone so they can properly mourn.

  5. Tia Will

    DP

    Witnesses included two mental health counselors, a school psychologist, a school safety official and a sympathetic special education teacher, among others. Beyond the school system, Marsh was attended by social workers, therapists and psychiatrists. So it’s hard to see how he lacked support in the school and health care systems.”

    I would like as a practitioner in an integrated health care system to explain to you how having many different individuals involved does not necessarily mean that one is not lacking in support. When the different individuals involved are not communicating with each other there is the danger associated with fragmentation of care. Quite literally what is seen by one individual ( such as the episodes of withdrawal and non-responsiveness noted by one individual ) may never be reported to others responsible for other aspects of care. While integration of care may not be very important for the straight forward medical problem, it is critical in the unusual or complicated case.

    I currently have one women under my care for a specialty issue who suffers from both bipolar disorder and a personality disorder. While I appreciated this from review of her chart on our first encounter, I had no idea how complicated this issue would be come and how much it would impact her care. We eventually sorted this out by establishing a care team and having her voluntarily limit her care to a specified number of doctors representing various specialties specifically to avoid this issue of assuming that having many different providers meant that she was getting adequate care while indeed it was hindering effective care through a lack of collaboration and joint decision making.

     

  6. Antoinnette

    I was asked to go to this meeting but had to work. However, felt that I could not brandish myself in the presence of this man. I find him to be of a very, “dark,” nature myself. During trial, he purposely put down the Vanguard and it’s less than intelligent interns, as he put it. Often laughing at us with other newspaper reporters, unaware that I heard his comments. I did not respond, was advised not to and I am glad. After listening to his comments and watching the immature behavior during trial, I felt no reason to give him more pleasure by responding to his ugliness and lack of professionalism.

    But on a more factual note, I covered this trial along with a few colleagues. I don’t believe we missed much between us. I will tell you all, he misses some major points of the trial. He also leaves out several truths in this case. From all indications, this book is totally one-sided, even blasting the best doctor up on that stand, Dr. Merinkangus.

    The key points he claims were made in trial, were really not what he says them to be. A lot of teens these days watch videos like he and friends were watching as do a lot of teens suffering from depression. Daniel was in a dark place, yes, but so are a lot of teenagers going thru puberty, not to mention all of the other factors in his life. Do they kill? no, usually proper guidance will get them thru a dark stage. Daniel may be the rarity…also pointing out that he studied serial killers. I find that interesting because both of my daughters, who at one point were studying up on their behaviors did so for educational purposes. They were thinking about becoming criminal profilers. I find that of little significance to this case as many of us find the subject interesting. Does it make one a killer? No…Did it send a resounding message to the jurors? We do not know? perhaps…perhaps not..

    Given the fact that we do not make money selling papers and our work is volunteer at this point, I disagree that David is comparable to Mr. Billingsley.

    Personally, the public should know the truth….and he is NOT telling it all. One of the best things about the Vanguard is that we offer the other side of the story. I believe most defense attorneys will agree. Yes, we make mistakes, we are all human but this website gives readers a chance to hear all of testimony, not just bits and pieces from the prosecutions side of things.

    I don’t find it to be bias to put out the truth, as some feel. We only write what we hear. I suppose it can be interpreted by the understanding of each individual mind.

    I also agree with David that this case should be talked about due to several factors; anti-depressants, interrogating practices, mental health issues in children. The ugly stuff did not need to be printed in a book, the public has already read those things in the local papers, I am pretty sure.

    The focus should be to work on making sure these things don’t happen again. Making sure authorities are warned of anyone threatening to kill, no matter if they name a victim or not. Making sure the children are more closely monitored on meds, at school, at home. Or any adults. These tragedies are preventable.

    Again, he was watched by some more closely, I agree, but their recommendations to others went unattended, if you recall. (per testimony)

    We heard so many doctors testify and so much information it would be difficult to make one perfect determination as to what pushed Daniel over the edge.  I don’t believe a person can make such assumptions as he did or belittle an experts findings as nothing. Each expert and witness had validity. It all has to be taken into account.

    It appears via the pictures that he was right in his statement that he was, “surprised by the sympathy the public showed towards Marsh.”  Judging by the few that showed up?

    I did not know the Northrups, but from all indications by the comments made from those who did know them, I would be willing to bet they wouldn’t want any glory taken from this tragedy.

    Although, I do realize by putting the stories out there, we may be given to sensationalizing too but hopefully our purpose is understood to be of a different intent.

     

     

     

     

    1. Antoinnette

      Yes, true. He will have to serve a sentence for the crimes but it will be up to the state where they want to put him. As of right now, before any appeals, he is headed to state prison once he reaches 18, I believe.

      He did confess to the crimes and a confession as we have learned is tough to get around, no matter how they got it. But he is not denying he did it, the question remains was he sound? sane? A jury thought so but it may have been a quick judgment.

      It will be interesting to see how he is doing in ten years. Hopefully, wherever he ends up he can continue to heal.

  7. hpierce

    At the ‘end of the day’, which it is, the Vanguard is, in effect, promoting Mr B and his book.  Giving Mr B the same exposure as the Bee and the Emptyprise.  ‘Do NOT think about blue bunnies’.

    1. Antoinnette

      You could be right on that, Hpierce. I wouldn’t have given him the time of day. This article with all the pics gives him some glory but at the same time gives the public a contrast to his story, or rather lack thereof. lol…since it is missing so much information.

      Just my thoughts..

  8. Themis

    Well that was fast!  It sounds like he just wants to cash in on a sensational crime while he can. I’m sure there is a very interesting story here but it would take much longer to investigate, interview people and write it.

  9. sisterhood

    An easy way to stop some of the profit (although it would bring more attention to the author’s narcissism, rewarding him) would be to start a very public boycott of his trash book. Ask the Yolo Co library and local book stores not to carry it. Tell bookstores you’ll shop somewhere else, if they do. Although I strongly believe in the right to free speech, I have stronger personal feelings re: the right to privacy. And I abhor lies and exaggerations of the truth.

    Another solution would be to publish many excerpts of his book online, for free.

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