General Crime

Santa Rosa Jury Deliberate Sanity Of First Degree Murder Suspect Houston Herczog

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A Sonoma County jury that convicted a Santa Rosa man of the brutal first-degree murder of his father is now deciding whether he was insane at the time. Jurors heard closing arguments today from Deputy Public Defender Karen Silver, who said three psychiatrists agreed 22-year-old Houston Herczog was suffering from paranoid schizophrenia and was insane when he killed his 63-year-old father Mark Herczog in their Rincon Valley home on Nov. 21, 2011. Silver said she met the defense’s burden of proving Herczog’s illness made him incapable of knowing the nature of his acts or that they were legally and morally wrong. Deputy District Attorney Robert Waner told the jury Herczog might have been suffering from schizophrenia at the time of the murder, but that is not the same as being insane at the time of the slaying. Waner’s witness, psychiatrist Dr. James Missett, testified the amphetamine Adderall, which Herczog was stealing from his mother, can lead to rage and violence, and he did not find any hard evidence Herczog was psychotic. “This was a drug-induced killing,” Missett said.

Waner suggested Herczog could be exaggerating his symptoms of schizophrenia to escape criminal responsibility. A lengthy video of an interview with a Santa Rosa police detective a few hours after the slaying showed Herczog oriented, cooperative, and aware of his bodily functions and sleep deprivation, Waner said. The prosecutor said the simplest explanation for the slaying is that Herczog sought drugs, stole them from his mother, became enraged when he returned home and was confronted by his father and killed him, Waner said. “The evidence in this case is he was completely sane when he killed his father,” Waner told the eight women and four men on the jury. Silver said Herczog was hearing voices and believed his father was an evil spirit. She said Herczog tried to sever his father’s head as a ritual purification to get the evil out. Herczog stabbed his father more than 50 times and dropped a guitar amplifier on his skull in the kitchen of their home. “Common sense says this was a psychotic killing, not a normal killing,” Silver said. “If this wasn’t a psychotic killing, what was it?”

Silver said evidence Herczog was insane includes a history of mental illness in his family, the lack of a motive to kill his father, the nature and character of his father’s injuries, his depression, quitting school and his band, cutting his wrists and destroying his room and his car with a machete. She said his condition improved once he began taking anti-psychotic medication. “Houston was mentally ill. It’s the thing that explains the killing,” Silver said.

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