MAYVILLE - Closing arguments and deliberations begin today in the Jason Wells murder trial at Chautauqua County Court, and as jurors consider a verdict, they will have to decide whether Wells faked his paranoid delusions about Ruth Fisk.
On Thursday, the prosecution called its own expert, forensic psychiatrist Dr. Gary Horwitz, to counter the defense's assertion that a delusional Wells could not have known at that time what he did to Fisk was wrong.
Horwitz said he believes Wells fabricated his delusions of Fisk molesting children to draw attention to himself.
"This was a vengeful act to punish someone else; it was aimed at making his mother feel worse about withdrawing and forcing him on another mother figure, which he increasingly did not want anything to do with," Horwitz said. "It was aggression with an aim and purpose."
Wells' attorney, Lyle Hajdu, became outraged during Horwitz's testimony as the expert referenced damning hearsay from individuals unable to be cross-examined by the defense.
"I'm compelled to move for a mistrial, Your Honor," Hajdu said angrily. "There's no way I can go back after what this witness has spewed out of his mouth. None of this is admissible and the defense has a right under the U.S. Constitution to cross-examine the people saying this, but none of them came to testify."
Judge John Ward denied the request and instructed the jury to consider the hearsay as part of how Horwitz arrived at his opinion, not as fact in the case.
Wells, a former resident of Fredonia's One Temple Square apartment complex, stabbed and beat Fisk, 81, a retired nurse and fellow One Temple Square resident and friend, to death on Feb. 4, 2010. He was 37 at the time and faces second-degree murder, a crime punishable by 25 years to life behind bars.
WELLS ALLEGEDLY KILLED KITTEN
In a manner similar to Fisk's killing, Wells apparently killed his ex-girlfriend's kitten and recorded the act when she left him.
On Wednesday, Bonny Bergstrom, an acquaintance of Wells, testified that Wells called her in 1995 to confess to killing the kitten. She said Wells and Brandi, his girlfriend at the time, had two children together.
"Jason was in our home often. He knew my son and they played guitar together," Bergstrom said. "Jason and Brandi broke up often. We knew Brandi through Jason. They had a volatile relationship."
At the time Wells called Bergstrom, Brandi had left the state.
"He said he was upset Brandi had left and told me he had choked her kitten and was upset with himself," Bergstrom recalled. "He said he wanted Brandi to know how much pain he was in because she had left. We took him to Jones Hill (in Jamestown) instead of the police station."
Hajdu on cross-examination pointed out Bergstrom had no concrete proof the defendant had intentionally killed a cat, nor was she aware of any.
"He did offer to play a tape of it, and I heard him click a tape recorder on," she replied. "I told him to turn it off or I would hang up. I never saw a cat's body though, no."
WELLS 'DEPENDENT' ON MOTHER
Horwitz explained he evaluated and investigated Wells to determine his state of mind when he killed Fisk.
Not only did Horwitz conduct two evaluations of Wells in July 2010 and August 2010 (both a few hours long), but he also reviewed police reports (including a Sheriff's report charging Wells with first-degree sexual abuse in 1998) and jail records, medical psychiatric records and notes Wells wrote to his mother, Mary Lynn Timon. He interviewed Timon and Wells' ex-girlfriend and stepfather and even reviewed the tape of the killing.
Horwitz learned Timon exited from her son's life for a while when he was young, having Wells live with his stepfather. During that time, Wells started drinking "profoundly" at age 14. It was not revealed why Timon had left her son.
When Wells lived at One Temple Square in 2009, Timon visited him regularly, but she suffered a heart attack and began pulling back from her involvement with Wells, according to Horwitz. Since Timon could not visit Wells as often, she encouraged his relationship with Fisk, who began having a bigger role in caring for Wells, taking him shopping and such.
"Jason told me in Christmas 2009, his mother came to visit him ...," Horwitz recalled. "He said at that point he was tired of Ruth calling all the time and it began to annoy him. In January 2010, his mother did not visit him, saying, 'Sorry, I'm too busy.'"
Wells also strongly objected to Timon bringing a friend with her when she visited him hours before Fisk's slaying.
Horwitz added letters Wells sent to Timon indicated an "ambivalent" and "dependent" relationship with his mother, calling her visits "emotionally uplifting" and saying, "It sure is great to have a mom like you." He also wrote, "I'm tired of waiting for a response from you," and, "Do you want to have turkey with me, or a bonk on the head?"
Horwitz concluded Wells suffers from "antisocial personality disorder with psychopathic features and alcohol use disorder," not paranoid schizophrenia, as the defense alleges.
The psychiatrist described the disorder, stating it becomes difficult for a person to relate to others. That feature causes problems in the person's life functions. Behavioral characteristics include impulsive aggression, a tendency to easily become irritated and problems sustaining work or stable finances.
Horwitz then stated he could see a pattern in Wells, who had a "psychopathic personality."
"Triggers of that include a reduced capacity for empathy ... and they are exploitative and irresponsible in their personal relationships," he said.
Horwitz added psychotic symptoms (paranoia, anger, etc.) would flare up after Wells consumed large amounts of alcohol or drugs and would clear up after sobering up. The witness found Wells had been to alcohol rehab at least five times and he even told Horwitz he used LSD, cocaine, marijuana and prescription pills at various points in his life.
"I did not diagnose Jason as having schizophrenia (like the defense experts) because there was such an extensive history of drug and alcohol use, and one case where his symptoms cleared up quickly," Horwitz said. "There was just too much in the way of that picture and so much before his diagnosis of schizophrenia (in 2003). He's got some features of that some of the time."
District Attorney David Foley then brought up that empty beer cans and an empty bottle of vodka were found at the crime scene, which Horwitz recalled.
"If he had schizophrenia, his delusions (of Fisk molesting children) would appear sometime before, not just after, the act of killing," Horwitz also pointed out. "Throughout all the records I reviewed (prior to Fisk's death), there is no place where those (specific) delusions show up ... They seemed created as an explanation afterward and he kept changing and expanding upon the delusion, later saying things about his attorney and a corrections officer. There needs to be a cohesiveness to the delusion."
Horwitz deemed this as an "overplay" on Wells' part, who appeared to be seeking attention by attempting to convince people he was insane.
Hajdu on cross-examination pointed out Wells was deemed incompetent to stand trial, causing him to be committed to the Central New York Psychiatric Center for two years' worth of treatment.
"He was treated at that facility by multiple doctors, who diagnosed him as a paranoid schizophrenic, correct?" Hajdu asked, to which Horwitz agreed.
Hajdu also noted Horwitz is the only doctor to diagnose Wells as having antisocial personality disorder and that Wells failed competency tests several times while in the psychiatric center.
The defense attorney also asserted Wells did, in fact, accuse Fisk of molestation sometime before the murder, when he said during the murder video, "Well honey, I kind of felt your little shove in my (expletive) when I was in the eighth grade."
Horwitz agreed when Hajdu pointed out he did not include that quote in his report.
HORWITZ: WELLS KNEW KILLING WAS WRONG
Regarding the events of the homicide, Horwitz indicated there were various factors that suggested Wells knew he was committing a wrongful act when he killed Fisk, and even planned it.
This included how Wells acknowledged in his admission statement to police that he "wish(ed) (he) could say (he) was sorry," he indicated to the defense's psychiatric expert that he "did it sloppy" (Horwitz noted Wells may have meant that killing Fisk was more of a mess than he wanted) and he tried hiding the body and cleaning up the scene, as if to try to avoid detection.
The taping of the killing could not be ignored either.
"This goes against the idea he didn't appreciate the wrongfulness of what he was doing," Horwitz remarked.
Trial proceedings should continue today at 9:30 a.m.
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