By Celeste Camble
In Department 13, we heard closing arguments from the People and the defense in the trial of David Lahiff. David is accused of the attempted murder of his parents. However, his parents obviously do not want to participate in this trial. David is diagnosed with schizophrenia and has been under the care of his parents his entire life. David’s father has been granted immunity in exchange for his cooperation in this investigation. Why then did David try to kill his parents? The only information provided by the assistant district attorney (ADA) is that they don’t have to prove David’s motive, just that his actions were intentional.
The ADA suggests that David’s delusional statements to his father, like “you’re going to die today” or “you’re going to die this hour,” are enough to suggest David tried to murder his father in a scuffle that enfolded between the two shortly thereafter. David’s statements as to his motive for attacking his father that day were that his father was trying to harvest his organs and trying to rape him, and that his father was holding him against his will. These accusations seem to be all due to the delusions.
According to David’s father, David wasn’t actively taking his medication at the time and was experiencing delusions as an effect of his schizophrenia. This unfortunate situation was not an isolated incident. Evidence was given in trial about another, similar, situation when police interfered between David and his parents. During this prior incident, David told police he was happy they came to interfere because he didn’t want to kill his parents. This exclamation shows the complexity of David’s mental illness and the side effects he experiences when he doesn’t take his medicine. As David sat in trial, he appeared calm and collected, writing notes to his attorney, Deputy Public Defender Eric Quandt.
The ADA referred to this “messy disease” only to dispute David’s inability to act in accordance with the plan to kill his father, not to give David some compassion in the charges for which they sought punishment. In the eight counts David is charged with, there were no breaks given. During jury instructions, the ADA included three lesser charges for the incident, in case they couldn’t prove the more substantial ones. This over-charging behavior seems to be common practice. However, in the totality of the circumstances here, David is not being treated as a sick person in need of help. It seems David, like many others in San Francisco, is getting the book thrown at him when he may just need some alternative treatment or a place to live where he has professional supervision.
David’s attorney questioned an expert, Dr. Everett, who explained what happens to the brain when a person is in an “acute psychotic episode.” The doctor explained that the part of the brain needed to make someone in touch with reality and to let them make decisions, the frontal lobe, is not being used in this state. The doctor explained that the part of brain used at this time is the same which is responsible for dreaming and sleep. This seems to explain the delusions and decisions David experienced and made that day.
The ADA, for the state, called this expert a “hired gun” in their closing argument. This, and many other statements made by the ADA seemed to show an extreme lack of sympathy for the severity of schizophrenia as a mental illness. The expert explained the delusions can be great and can take over the affected person’s life. In hindsight, David’s father thought of a possible alternative to his perception in the heat of the moment. The defendant’s father explained he was distraught that morning, going on little-to-no sleep, and was very concerned about the day before, but doesn’t think David wanted to kill him.
From the audience’s perspective, David is a troubled man when he does not take his medication. It would appear he needs psychiatric support but unclear if the criminal justice system is the place for David. The defense attorney made this point in a statement to the jury during his closing argument, asking how the jurors would describe the trial they sat on after they deliver their verdict. It was a profound question because the facts of this trial are atypical of a criminal trial.
In closing arguments, the defense also brought up all the holes there were in the state’s evidence. As the trier of facts, the jury must base their decision on the evidence shown in trial. The defense attorney used the evidence introduced by the prosecutor to show that there were many unanswered questions from the evidence. In some of the photos introduced, there was an unexplained box cutter on top of broken glass from the struggle, and the pattern of broken glass didn’t make sense for the ADA’s explanation of the events of that day. David’s father’s glasses were found far away from where the ADA said the struggle occurred, and the injuries sustained by David’s father didn’t meet the severity required for the alternative charges to attempted murder.
Based on the statements David made on the day of the incident, it appears he was not in touch with reality and was unable to make conscious decisions. At the hospital, David told a three-day rookie in charge of interviewing him that people around him were aliens, that his father raped him, and that his father also tried to harvest his organs. The ADA suggested this was so scarring to this officer that they remembered the incident three years later. David told another person close to that time that supermarkets were selling “human meat.”
The parents, the “victims,” do not want David to be punished for this incident and have changed their perception of what actually happened after they had a chance to think about it rationally. David’s parents both admit that, without the subpoena from the court, they would not be participating in these proceedings. David’s father explained that behavior from the day before this incident, with his mother and relating to one of the eight counts, caused them concern and they requested a protective order from police. However, David’s parents immediately violated this protective order by picking David up when a stranger called them and told them he seemed lost and was behaving strangely. David’s parents expressed great remorse during this proceeding. His parents seemed to be fearful that their violation of this protective order may have legal repercussions and that fear explains some of their statements on the day of the incident that contradict testimony given in court.